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In recent months, the State of Michigan has found several places where drinking water and fish are contaminated by a class of chemicals called PFAS, or poly and perfluoroalkyl substances.PFAS is a family of chemicals that can be found in all sorts of products. But what are the lingering effects of PFAS on our health and the environment?

Proposal planned to ban PFAS in food packaging

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Legislation soon will be introduced in Michigan to ban food packaging that contains toxic chemicals such as PFAS, bisphenols, or phthalates.

Some restaurants stopped using packaging containing PFAS, but some of the biggest chains still do.

State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) says it’s time to stop.

“If you're doing food packaging and you're selling it to a consumer in Michigan, you cannot have these harmful chemicals in your food packaging that we know leach into the food,” Irwin said.

His proposal comes as a report by the Ecology Center and its partners show chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King are still using PFAS packaging, which helps prevent grease stains on wrappers and bags (see this story).

Credit The Ecology Center

“In the analysis that the Ecology Center just recently did, it showed that the paper clamshell packaging didn't have PFAS in it, whereas the bags and the burger wrappers did,” Irwin said, adding that the industry has shown there are alternatives.

Jeff Gearhart with the Ecology Center says the report found of the 38 samples tested, half of them contained PFAS. He indicated the group wanted to show that some of the largest fast food restaurants could do better.

“Particularly highlighting some of the larger chains, McDonald's, Burger King, as being slow to react and slow to take action on this,” Gearhart noted.

He believes if McDonald’s stopped using packaging that contains PFAS, it would make a difference.

“That would trigger essentially the rest of the industry to move, because of their volume, because of their size,” Gearhart explained.

Senator Irwin believes the legislation banning PFAS and other toxic chemicals in food packaging will get bipartisan support because the PFAS problem is so well known.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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