California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a proposed ban on perfluorinated compounds in food packaging Sept. 29. He said that group of chemicals should instead be examined under a new state program to review potentially harmful chemicals that he signed into law the same day.
The Legislature passed the ban bill in August. It would have applied to items such as fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn sacks, pizza boxes and pet-food bags that are treated with PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid.
The veto reverses the only anti-chemical or plastics bill passed this year in California.
``It is a real betrayal that a so-called green governor would side with the chemical industry on such a clear-cut question of public health,'' scientist Renee Sharp said in a news release. She is a senior scientist in the Oakland, Calif., office of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.
``[Perfluorinated compounds] are a threat to Californians' health today. Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan for chemical reform means more years of study and more years of delay by the industry.''
Schwarzenegger said ``green chemistry'' companion bills AB 1879 and SB 509, which he signed into law, put ``an end to the less effective `chemical-by-chemical' bans of the past.''
``With these two bills, we will stop looking at toxics as an inevitable by-product of industrial production,'' Schwarzenegger said in a news release.
``Instead [toxics] will be something that can be removed from every product in the design stage protecting people's health and our environment. I am excited to lead this effort, which will spur a new era of research and innovation, and promises to drive economic growth and competition in the green chemistry sector.''
But EWG and the United Steelworkers of America said they agree on the need for comprehensive chemical reform and support a systematic approach for evaluating the health and safety risks of chemicals. However, they said the health risks from PFOA need no further study. They are skeptical whether the new process in California will work or simply delay chemical regulations.
``We hope we are wrong,'' said EWG President Richard Wiles. But the bills seem to provide ``a statutory shield for chemical companies who want to delay health protections and preserve the status quo while bureaucrats ponder the problem. These bills do not establish a human health safety standard or public health goal for chemicals of concern or their prospective substitutes.''
The two companion laws, passed by the Legislature over Labor Day weekend, require the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to develop a process to evaluate and regulate chemicals.
The scuttled PFOA ban would have been the first in the U.S. and would have banned food-contact substances with levels of PFOA and other PFCs 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.
``Vetoing this bill is a slap in the face to the contaminated workers at the DuPont plants who have shown significantly higher PFOA levels in their blood than the general public,'' said USW President Leo Gerard in a statement. ``We are outraged to see the governor bow to the pressure tactics of DuPont and the chemical industry and reject this bill.''