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Many States Worry about PFAS…The State of Maine Just Did Something About It

The state of Maine Legislature and its governor, Janet Mills, signed a new law on June 13, 2019 that protects its citizens from two groups of ubiquitous chemicals that threaten human health: phthalates and PFAS.

A primary way that people are exposed to both groups of chemicals is through our food supply, including through food packaging. PFAS are found in packaging such as bakery bags, microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers. Phthalates enter our food supply in part through inks and adhesives as well as from gloves that are used to handle food.

People are exposed to both groups of chemicals is through our food supply.

Phthalates are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. They are used in many consumer products including cosmetics, personal care products, and plastic and vinyl toys.

How do they harm health? Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that change the way hormones work. Pregnant women, babies and toddlers are most at risk, and males may suffer an increased risk of birth defects associated with testicular cancer, prostate cancer or difficulty in fathering a child.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are generally referred to by their plural acronym, PFAS. PFAS are resistant to water, oil and heat, and their use has expanded rapidly since they were developed by companies in the mid-20th century. Today, PFAS’ nonstick qualities make them useful in products as diverse as food wrappers, umbrellas, tents, carpets and firefighting foam. The chemicals are also used in the manufacture of plastic and rubber, and in insulation for wiring.

In short, PFAS are all around us. And as a result, they have found their way into the soil and, especially in some regions, into our drinking water.

PFAS chemicals do not break down.

PFAS also increases the risk of some cancers, may lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, and have been associated with liver problems and increased cholesterol levels. PFAS chemicals do not break down. They persist in our bodies and our environment for years and even decades.

Both phthalates and PFAS have been linked to interference with normal brain development in children.

I am especially concerned about the health impacts of toxic chemical exposure from PFAS and phthalates on lower-income families, as well as children and teens whose young bodies are developing and whose potential parenting years are well in front of them. Packaged foods often have higher levels of phthalates, PFAS, and other chemicals that escape from food processing and packaging materials.

What can be done about these two toxic families of chemicals? Certainly, consumers can urge national retailers to make changes to ensure that phthalates and PFAS are not in packaging.

States must also take action to create protective policy

But states must also take action to create protective policy, like Maine just did, especially in the face of inaction at the federal level.

The law updates the current Maine statute by requiring manufacturers to phase-out PFAS and phthalates by 2022. It also authorizes Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to name other priority chemicals in food packaging and require disclosure, assessment of alternatives or phase-out.

This law will also better protect the Maine environment. It will help prevent long-lasting toxic PFAS chemicals, especially, from entering the environment and drinking water supply when packaging is composted or landfilled.

State governments have a responsibility to protect the people of the state. We in the faith community affirm that task and view it as paralleling the work of God. As Psalm 12:5 states. “Because the poor are despoiled and the needy groan, I will now rise up, says the Lord, and I will place them in the safety for which they long.”


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