The Clean Water Blog

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Packaged in Pollution - I’m not lovin’ it!

In states across the country, Clean Water Action is tackling the PFAS pollution problem. PFAS (per- and polyflyoroalkyl substances) is known as the "forever chemical" because it persists in the environment and in our bodies. It is associated with a range of health harms from cancers to liver impacts to reproductive issues.  PFAS can impact communities in a variety of ways so we will be share updates from spots across the country in the coming weeks to highlight some of these local impacts. Stay tuned and let us know if you'd like to get involved locally!

On August 6th, Clean Water Action co-released a report in conjunction with the Mind the Store campaign titled “Packaged in Pollution.” The report outlined testing results done on samples of food packaging from fast food restaurants across the country. The results were no surprise. PFAS chemicals are used in food packaging and food service ware to repel grease and liquids so food wrappers for burgers, fries, sandwiches and molded fiber plates and bowls are likely culprits. 

Unfortunately, this class of over 5000 variations of chemicals are linked to impaired immune systems, kidney and testicular cancers, liver disease, hormone disruption, high cholesterol and low birth weights.  The chemicals leach out of the food packaging and contaminate the food that we consume. These single use products also pollute our environment as they end up in landfills or incinerators. The fluorine-carbon bond in these chemical compounds never breaks down and leaches out of landfills or gets into the air from incinerator emissions, contaminating soil, ground and surface waters. As of July 2020, 2,230 locations in 49 states are known to have PFAS contamination. Millions of Americans likely have PFAS in their drinking water sources as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not established an enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS.

We simply must stop the use of these toxic chemicals in products that harm health and the environment.

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The good news: We are making progress! Thanks to our market campaign work with the Mind the Store campaign, many major retailers are switching away from PFAS in food packaging, including Chipotle, Panera Bread, Taco Bell, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods Market. This is a direct result of the public pressure from our campaign. Safe alternatives exist and we need to continue to push these retailers to do the right thing!  Stay tuned for more action in September to urge McDonald’s—the world’s largest fast food chain—to be a global leader.    

In Connecticut, our work with the state procurement agency to restrict PFAS chemicals in food packaging paid off when they finalized a contract in November 2019 to restrict PFAS in food packaging and food service ware for all state-owned buildings.

Next steps: We’re working to expand restrictions on PFAS in food packaging and food service ware in Connecticut municipalities and in school cafeterias. Since PFAS chemicals impair our immune systems, these actions go a long way to protect health—especially during the Covid pandemic. Contact us to learn more and if you’re interested in helping move this forward in your town or your children’s school, we’d love to help.