9 July 2019
Maine Bans Certain Chemicals in Food Packaging
The small U.S. state of Maine recently banned the use of certain chemicals in food packaging. Maine had already banned the sale of children’s products containing bisphenol-A and currently requires manufacturers to disclose the use of certain phthalates in children’s products.
The new law prohibits the use of all phthalates – a chemical commonly used to soften plastics and in some personal care products – in food packaging beginning in 2022. It also authorises the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin the process of prohibiting PFAS chemicals in all food packaging state-wide by seeking alternative products to replace these chemicals. PFAS are used in non-stick cookware, fire-fighting foam and grease-repellent packaging. Both bans will apply to manufacturers with over US$1 billion in sales.
Representatives from chemical manufacturers argue that the “blanket prohibition” on phthalates and PFAS ignores the fact that many varieties of the chemicals have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Raymond David, a toxicologist who serves on a phthalates panel of the American Chemistry Council, indicated that four phthalates have been identified as likely to harm the human reproductive system but no other phthalates have been flagged as potentially harmful. He argued that it is wrong to classify all phthalates as “chemicals of concern” because there are so many different varieties. “There is no regulatory body in the world that has done that because the science simply doesn’t support that,” he noted.
The Maine Forest Products Council, which represents key producers in the heavily forested state, favours the “collaborative, fact-finding” approach envisioned in a PFAS task force recently established by Maine’s governor. But Gail Carson, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Maine’s Colby College, insisted that “we are told by manufacturers that the substitutes are safer and we have nothing to worry about, but inevitably similar health and environmental concerns arise after we’ve already been exposed, so we end up back where we started from; the common-sense approach to protect public health is to ban food packaging that contains any of these chemicals, the old ones and the new substitutes from the same chemical families.”
U.S. states have increasingly legislated new environmental rules, including on automotive emissions and single-use plastic bags and straws. Maine’s new law may lead to changes by 2022 in plastics production for food packaging nationwide and even worldwide.