New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that will help protect consumers from the harmful effects of a dangerous class of chemicals linked to serious health problems, according to Consumer Reports.

The new law drafted by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and Sen. Brad Hoylman bans polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily and persist in human bodies and the environment.

“PFAS chemicals are pervasive in food packaging and have been linked to serious health problems that can put consumers at risk,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist for Consumer Reports. “This law will protect New Yorkers by reducing their exposure to PFAS in the food they eat and by curbing the amount that contaminates the air and drinking water.”

PFAS chemicals have been in wide use since at least the 1950s and studies of the U.S. population have found them in 95 percent of all people tested. Some manufacturers add PFAS to food packaging to make it water and grease-resistant. Unfortunately, it also contaminates the food it comes into contact with and can be released into the environment when manufacturers dispose of materials containing the chemicals.

The Food and Drug Administration recently reported that it had detected PFAS in a variety of foods purchased around the country, including produce, meats and seafood, and chocolate cake. People are exposed to PFAS when they consume food or drinking water contaminated with the chemicals.

Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with immunotoxicity, cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and decreased sperm quality. PFAS exposure reduces the immune response to childhood vaccines and may increase the risk of infectious disease. In addition, PFAS exposure has been directly linked to several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

New York now joins Washington state and Maine, which have already prohibited PFAS in food packaging.

Safer alternatives to PFAS have proven to be as effective at repelling water and grease.

“We applaud Gov. Cuomo for signing this bill into law and making New York a leader in the effort to protect the public from hazardous forever chemicals,” said Chuck Bell, advocacy program director for Consumer Reports.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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