ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday signed a bill to ban toxic PFAS compounds from food packaging that is commonly found in items ranging from pizza boxes to milk cartons and pastry bags, as well as being used in wrappings for meat and fish.
“When we buy food from the grocery store or takeout from a restaurant, we assume that product is safe for our families,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy of Albany, who sponsored the legislation along with state Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan. “PFAS — a dangerous and cancer-causing class of chemicals commonly used in everyday food packaging — however, is anything but safe for New Yorkers."
PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, have drawn public scrutiny in recent years when they have turned up in some municipal water supplies.
They can come from manufacturing, which resulted in water pollution in Hoosick Falls, or from firefighting foam used in fire drills, as in the Catskills community of Cairo.
Often known as “forever chemicals,” due to their strong bonds, PFAS chemicals can remain in a person’s blood stream for long periods of time. They are associated with cancer, thyroid malfunctions and other health problems.
The state law comes after Cayuga County lawmakers considered adopting a local ban in 2019. When news that a statewide measure was under consideration, the county Legislature decided to hold off.
The PFAS chemicals used in making substances like Teflon or firefighting foam are long-chain varieties, meaning there are more carbon atoms linking fluorines that make up the compound. Food packaging PFASs are short-chain with fewer carbon atoms, but researchers still believe they have toxic properties.
With passage of the bill, New York joins Maine and Washington in banning PFAS from food containers.
Environmentalists cheered the decision.
"Today New York continued down the path of ridding cancer-causing PFAS chemicals from our environment by banning PFAS in food packaging,” said Kate Kurera, deputy director of the Environmental Advocates of New York. “It is shocking just how pervasive these chemicals are and they have absolutely no place near the food we consume.”
“These chemicals have already polluted the drinking water serving millions of New Yorkers, and there is no evidence that any level of exposure is safe for public health,” said Liz Moran, environmental policy director for New York Public Interest Research Group.
The bill signing comes on the heels of another PFAS decision in which Cuomo approved legislation to essentially ban the incineration of firefighting foam that contains the chemical.
In that bill, the governor approved a bill banning the burning of Aqueous Film Forming Foam used in firefighting, which contains PFAS chemicals. Only one location in New York had been doing that, the Norlite aggregate plant in Cohoes. They have previously burned AFFF in their kilns when they had a contract with the federal Department of Defense, as well as fire departments across the Northeast to dispose of the substance.
Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer