July 01, 2022

Legislators seek to forever change the legal landscape of forever chemicals

Litigation is ramping up and more restaurants and food packaging businesses are targets in lucrative lawsuits surrounding use of PFAS-containing products.
Recent news reports about per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in common household products are placing PFAS under greater scrutiny. Legal analysts warn that the increase in personal injury lawsuits related to PFAS could now befall restaurants in every segment of the industry. 

Found in everything from carpet to cookware, clothing, microwave popcorn bags, firefighting foam, pizza boxes, and dental floss (to name a few), their main use in food packaging is to prevent grease and water from soaking through.

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they take a long time to break down, if at all. 

In a recent webinar hosted by the Restaurant Law Center, Jeffrey Parker, partner, Sheppard Mullin noted that “PFAS are difficult to regulate because the chemicals don’t act the same, and you can’t test for a majority of them.” 

Although PFAS can be associated with negative health effects in humans and animals, some experts note that the simple presence of PFAS is not an immediate sign of danger or an indicator of a potential health risk. Still, a number of retail and restaurant brands are voluntarily phasing out PFAS in their products. 

The Food and Drug Administration has approved some PFAS for food contact and has eliminated two from food packaging, while congressional committees are considering the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act to prohibit companies from intentionally adding PFAS in food packaging (effective in 2024). 

Additionally, state legislatures in Calif., Conn., Maine, Minn., N.Y., Vt., and Wash. passed legislation banning PFAs in food packaging. Policymakers in Colo., Hawaii, Iowa, Md., Mass., Mich., Pa., and R.I. proposed similar bills.   

Legal activity does not end there. “The race to the courthouse is on,” commented Parker. “Lawsuits keep rolling in.”

Chemical giant Dupont paid approximately $600 million in personal injury damages after the company was found to have contaminated drinking water when employees dumped PFAS into groundwater and into unlined pits in W. Va. 

Firefighters in S.C., Mass., and N.Y., filed suits alleging their health was endangered by companies that used PFAS to manufacture protective gear and foam. 

Whether it’s federal or state legislation, regulations, or court rulings across the country, the Association continues to monitor PFAS and advocate for policies that ensure restaurant food packaging is safe.