The California Assembly reversed itself Aug. 27, approving the nation's first ban on the use of perfluorinated compounds in food packaging.
The ban, set to begin Jan. 1, 2010, mostly applies to items like hamburger wrappers, microwave popcorn sacks, pizza boxes and pet food bags treated with PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid.
The bill is likely to become law unless it is vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as it has already passed the Senate. All that remains is for the Senate to approve an amendment that narrows the bill's focus.
The sudden about-face came after the bill was amended so it no longer would apply to liners in cans of infant formula. The measure passed 42-29 one vote more than was needed for passage. The previous version failed by a 36-33 vote.
``This is a great victory for public health,'' Renee Sharp, senior analyst in the Oakland, Calif., office of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, said in a news release. ``This bill puts teeth into the voluntary PFOA phaseout'' negotiated by the Bush administration, which won't take effect until 2015. ``The federal government's toothless approach does not ensure that people will be protected from these chemicals.''
The California bill bans food-contact substances with levels of PFOA and other perfluorinated compounds that exceed 10 parts per billion, which currently is the smallest detectable amount.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co. is the only U.S. producer of PFOA, which is used to make fluoropolymers including DuPont's Teflon.
The firm argued against the bill, noting PFOA is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for food-contact use. DuPont added that the bill also would ban many alternatives to PFOA, some of which have been approved recently by the FDA.
``Consumer safety is the top priority,'' said DuPont spokesman Dan Turner. ``The best way to achieve this is to allow and trust the experts and scientists at our public agencies to review and determine the safety of products. SB 1313 does not do that it takes the decision out of the hands of these qualified experts. SB 1313 is not the right approach.''
But Shawn Gilchrist, a member of the Strategic Campaigns unit of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, disagreed.
``The outcome of this vote has far-reaching positive effects for consumers, not just in California, but likely nationwide,'' Gilchrist said in an e-mail. United Steelworkers represents DuPont workers.
``This bill dramatically pushes up the time line for a phaseout of these chemicals over the voluntary [Environmental Protection Agency] stewardship program. The citizens in California and their elected representatives sent DuPont and the chemical industry a strong message that they will not permit these chemicals to unabatedly contaminate their bodies, their drinking water and the environment.''
PFOA levels in the blood of workers who come into contact with the chemical have been found to be higher than those of the general public, but DuPont has argued there are no adverse health effects even at that higher level.