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Washington May Restrict Chemicals Found in Food Wrappers, Fire-Fighting Foam

Washington might soon be the first state to restrict a class of chemicals found in products from hamburger wrappers to fire-fighting foam.

February 16, 2018

Rep. Joan McBride worries about what she’s helping her children put in their bodies whenever she takes them to get a hamburger and fries.

And it’s not the fatty meat or processed carbs that has her so concerned.

“Potentially those little pieces of paper wrapping up the hamburger had chemicals that potentially migrate into our bodies,” said McBride, a lawmaker whose Washington House district includes the city of Kirkland.

And it's not just hamburger wrappers — microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, too. Fire-fighting foams also contain these chemicals, known as perfluorinated compounds. And when those foams get sprayed outdoors, the chemicals can make their way into well water, water bodies and wildlife.

Firefighting Chemicals Contaminate Water Across Washington

Toxic chemicals used in firefighting foams, non-stick cookware, and textiles have been detected in some of Washington’s waterways and groundwater. In particular, they’ve contaminated some drinking water sources near military bases and fire-training facilities.

Washington might soon be the first state to restrict these chemicals, which are used because of their non-stick and flame-resistant properties. But they've also been associated with negative health outcomes.

Related: Military Airstrips Are Poisoning People's Wells

So far scientists have not been able to determine how much of these chemicals is too much. But studies in animals link them to liver problems, weakened immune systems and altered hormone levels. And people exposed to the chemicals are at risk of increased cholesterol, lower birth weights and certain kinds of cancer.

“Part of our concern is because humans are so slow to excrete them once we’re exposed,” said Barbara Morrissey, a toxicologist with the Washington Department of Health.

In other words, these chemicals can stay in our bodies for years.

McBride’s bill would create a pathway for getting rid of perfluorinated chemicals in food wrappers if a safe alternative can be found, while a second bill would ban the chemicals in fire-fighting foams.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set an advisory level for how much of these chemicals is safe in drinking water, but, until now, no state or federal law has attempted to eliminate these chemicals at the source.

The Washington Department of Ecology is also working on a Chemical Action Plan for perfluorinated chemicals that would provide recommendations not only for individual sources of these chemicals but also for environmental cleanup. A spokesperson says the committee plans to publish drinking water recommendations within a month and the entire Chemical Action Plan by the end of the year.



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A Burger King Whopper meal combo at a restaurant in Punxsutawney, Pa., Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

Gene J. Puskar/AP