PFAS Found in US Municipal Compost Center

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is citing the discovery of PFAS in Ann Arbor’s compost as another reason to ban use of the toxic chemicals in food packaging.

The Dearborn Democrat’s legislation to institute such a ban was the focus of what she called a key hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee Wednesday, Jan. 29.

“PFAS are toxic, forever chemicals that are everywhere — including food containers and non-stick cookware and countless other everyday products,” Dingell said in a statement after the hearing.

“Just this week, the city of Ann Arbor found high levels of PFAS in and around the compost facility likely due in part to the presence of food containers containing PFAS. This issue is here, it is threatening public health and our environment now, and we need to act.”

Dingell said her legislation would ensure “unsafe, hazardous chemicals are not allowed near the food we eat.”

Ann Arbor officials share concerns about the fluorochemicals, which are also in the city’s drinking water.

The city announced its discovery of PFAS in the city’s compost material Tuesday, Jan. 28, characterizing the levels as low, while acknowledging there’s limited research and lacking health guidelines for PFAS in compost.

Compost samples collected Oct. 25 tested positive for 13 types of PFAS, ranging from 0.04 parts per billion to 17 ppb, the city reported.

Water samples collected Oct. 25 from two retention ponds at the compost facility also tested positive for 12 types of PFAS ranging from 0.44 parts per trillion to 680 ppt.

Water samples are measured in parts per trillion while soil samples are in parts per billion, the city noted.

The city’s compost center takes items such as leaves, twigs and food scraps and turns them into decomposed organic material that’s used as fertilizer or mulch.

Some of it ends up being used as topsoil in city parks, and free compost is available to city residents in the spring, in addition to being sold through city vendor WeCare.

City officials suspect PFAS-containing items such as food containers improperly placed in compost carts may have caused the contamination.

Dingell’s Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act would empower the Food and Drug Administration to deem PFAS substances in any food containers or cookware as unsafe. It would give the FDA until 2022 to enforce the ban.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Dingell said the committee already took big strides needed to kickstart the cleanup of legacy PFAS contamination, limit discharges and help communities upgrade infrastructure to filter PFAS out of drinking water with passage of the PFAS Action Act, “though we need the Senate to act for it to really happen.”

It’s been estimated 99% of Americans have PFAS in their blood and one of the more troublesome exposures to PFAS is through food packaging, Dingell said.

During the hearing, Dingell asked Melanie Benesh, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group’s legislative attorney, what is known about the health effects of PFAS in food packaging and whether the FDA has a safety threshold.

“We do know that PFAS migrates from food packaging into food and we know that some of the health effects broadly associated with PFAS chemicals include some kinds of cancers and then, at much lower doses, reproductive harms, developmental harms and reduced effectiveness of vaccine,” Benesh testified.

“What’s really concerning to me is FDA has said it is using EPA’s reference dose for drinking water for PFOA and PFOS, which are two of the food packaging chemicals that are no longer being used, but for all the PFAS that are still in food packaging they have not calculated a reference dose,” she added. “And so they’re using the kinds of assumptions that they apply to other chemicals that don’t operate in the body the same way that PFAS do.”

Dingell asked if Americans can just “shop around” to avoid PFAS-containing food packaging.

“Unfortunately not,” Benesh said. “Unlike the ingredients in food that do have to be on the label … there’s no requirement that the ingredients in a food packaging material have to be on the label, so it’s very difficult to avoid.”

FDA hasn’t appreciated the urgency of the issue and Congress needs to step in, Benesh said.

“No one knows better than Michigan how urgent this problem is and how overburdened many communities already are,” Benesh told Dingell.

The congresswoman responded by suggesting Michigan has more known PFAS contamination than other states only because it has proactively tested for it.

“Flint water taught us something,” she said. “As other states start to test, they’re going to be as bad as Michigan, which is what’s so scary. And food isn’t just marketed to Michigan. It’s marketed to every state.”

The Environmental Working Group found as many as 40% of fast food wrappers and paper products tested positive for fluorine chemicals, Dingell’s office stated in a news release, noting PFAS chemicals have been linked to liver disease, thyroid dysfunction and several forms of cancer.

In early January, the U.S. House voted 247-159 to pass legislation led by Dingell that she said would comprehensively address PFAS contamination in Michigan and nationwide.

Dingell’s PFAS Action Act aims to have select PFAS chemicals – PFOA and PFOS – listed as hazardous substances within one year under the Superfund program to direct federal resources to clean up contaminated sites and limit their spread. It also would require the Environmental Protection Agency to make a determination on all remaining PFAS chemicals within five years, among other provisions.



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Dingell cites Ann Arbor compost scare as reason to ban PFAS in food packaging



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