Earlier this month, Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food proposed a ban on the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cardboard and paper packaging that makes direct contact with food. This ban is expected to take effect in July 2020, putting Denmark on the map as the first country to ban PFAS from food contact materials. Denmark Food Minister Mogens Jensen announced the reason for the ban: “I do not want to accept the risk of harmful fluorinated substances migrating from the packaging and into our food. These substances represent such a health problem that we can no longer wait for the EU.” Probable health risks linked to PFAS includes high cholesterol, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy induced hypertension.

PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals with over 5,000 individual synthetic compounds. Since the 1940s, they have been manufactured and used in a variety and industries around the world. They can be present in food packaging, drinking water, and household products such as nonstick products, water-repellent products and fire-fighting foams. PFAS are used in products for their unique physical properties that make them water repellent, oil repellent, heat resistant, and resistant to degradation.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the primary concern of exposure to these chemicals is through contaminated drinking water, not consumer products or food packaging. In response to recent headlines stating that PFAS are present in molded-fiber bowls used by Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Dig, Jamie DeWitt, Ph.D. associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at East Carolina University, echoed the statements by the CDC and FDA: “I’m not sure how readily PFAS from these bowls would get into the food that is placed into them, as people probably eat the food quickly and don’t store or reheat them for a long period of time.” She noted that PFAS are likely included in certain food packaging because they hold up to hot greasy food and prevent leaks better than regular paper alternatives.

DeWitt believes that the primary issue with PFAS present in takeout containers is not the potential for immediate exposure to PFAS by the consumer, but the lasting environmental effect once the bowl is disposed of or composted. When the PFAS-containing food packaging is disposed of or composted, the PFAS will be release into the environment and can contaminate drinking water over time. As acknowledged by the CDC, U.S. FDA, and the EPA, drinking water contamination remains the primary health concern in relation to PFAS.

Our attorneys have been at the forefront of PFAS issues, including giving presentations as to the future waves of litigation stemming from PFAS issues. For more information, please contact any of our PFAS – Toxic Torts Team: Jessica Deyoe, Alexandra Fraher, Suzanne Englot, or John Gardella.