WE ACT Applauds Passage of Legislation Prohibiting PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging in New York State

Protects Blacks/African Americans Who Are Most at Risk


July 24, 2020
Contact: Chris Dobens, 212-410-1963, chris@weact.org


ALBANY, NY — On behalf of our staff, 900-plus members, and the more than 650,000 residents of Northern Manhattan in New York City, WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) enthusiastically applauds the passage S.8817 and A.4739-C, which prohibit the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS chemicals) in food packaging. This bill is a necessary step to protect public health, the environment, and the food system in New York State. WE ACT is especially thankful to New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and New York State Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) for their leadership in protecting communities of color and many other New Yorkers from these harmful toxics.

PFAS is widely used in food packaging to coat paper and cardboard wrappers for fast food and bakery goods because it is resistant to grease, water, and oil. However, that resistance comes at a huge cost. These man-made chemicals are extremely difficult to break down and can accumulate in our bodies for so long that they are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.” Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a variety of health concerns, including cancer, liver and kidney disruption, reproductive and developmental disorders, increased cholesterol, and low infant birth weights. And one of the most-alarming health concerns of PFAS exposure is the disruption of the immune system, which studies have found could put people at higher risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19.

“Yesterday, by passing S.8817 and A.4739-C, which prohibit the use of PFAS in food packaging throughout the state, New York State legislators demonstrated that they can protect us from these ‘forever chemicals,’” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “And we applaud Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Fahy for leading the way with their sponsorship of these bills.

Studies have shown that access to fast food is higher in communities with greater concentrations of Black/African American residents, making them more vulnerable to PFAS exposure from fast food packaging and its bioaccumulative effects, which is why the passage of this bill demonstrates that Black Lives Matter. We look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

The Equity Issues with PFAS
PFAS contamination is an equity issue and governments at both the federal and state level are failing to protect vulnerable populations. While it is true that we have evidence that PFAS exposure is impacting us all, some studies are emerging that examine the concentration of PFAS chemicals in the human body, behavior-related exposure, and race. One such study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology strengthened the evidence that PFAS exposure is influenced by product use and varies by race. Among Blacks/African Americans, but not other participants, eating prepared food from coated cardboard containers was associated with higher levels of four of the six PFAS chemicals evaluated (PFOA, PFNA, PFDeA, and PFOS).

When you compound findings like this with the research that dates back in some instances to 2004 on whether neighborhood access to unhealthy food varies by neighborhood income or racial composition, you have an even more deleterious effect on communities of color, especially those that identify as Black/African American. In the research of whether access to unhealthy foods varies by neighborhood income or racial composition, researchers using a broad array of methods in a diverse range of settings have demonstrated that low-income neighborhoods with a large proportion of Black/African American residents have higher access to unhealthy foods (Walker et al., 2010; Black et al., 2012; Block et al., 2004; Cummins et al., 2005; Kwate et al., 2009; Powell et al., 2007; Fraser et al., 2010).

In addition, while much has been made about PFAS in drinking water, it is not the main source of exposure to PFAS for most people in New York or the country. PFAS chemicals are widely used to coat paper and cardboard wrappers for fast food and bakery goods. The level of access to fast food in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Black/African Americans documented in the studies cited above and others makes this bill of significant importance to these communities.

National and state governments are failing to protect the public from PFAS, especially communities of color and low-income white communities. But with the passage of this legislation, New York has demonstrated its leadership on this issue. WE ACT strongly urges New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to sign this legislation into law and protect all communities in New York State – but especially Black/African American communities – from the harmful effects of PFAS in food packaging.

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WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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