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A state committee tasked with evaluating harmful chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, delivered its recommendations to Gov. Ned Lamont on Nov. 4.

The chemicals are commonly used in food containers that are nonstick or waterproof to maintain their structure, even at high temperatures. But PFAS exposure has been associated with adverse medical conditions, such as cancer, thyroid disease, lower sperm quality and compromised immune systems. The committee — called the Connecticut Interagency PFAS Task Force — determined that drinking water should be tested for the chemical and also called for identification of other sources of PFAS.

“I applaud the work of this task force, which is the result of a collaborative effort among public, private and nonprofit stakeholders coming together to address an emerging contaminant with real impacts globally, nationally and right here in Connecticut,” Lamont said in a statement in the News.

Vasilis Vasiliou, who is the chair of environmental health sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, said the extent to which PFAS found in packaging are transferred to food during reheating remains unclear. He also said factory workers who manufacture these containers are more likely to suffer from cancer.

Another School of Public Health professor, Zeyan Liew, said PFAS is particularly harmful for infants and children as well.

PFAS not only is harmful for humans, but also is destructive to the environment. Valsiliou said that trash containing PFAS can contaminate water, and if burned, pollute the air.

Still, no alternative exists for these chemicals, making it difficult for manufacturers to abandon them. Ongoing research at the School of Public Health, according to Vasiliou, aims to replace PFAS with natural compounds derived from olives.

“We have to think about green chemistry — how we can design other compounds that have the same properties but not the same toxicity,” Vasiliou said.

Environmentalists across the world are organizing to ban PFAS. Starting from 2020, Denmark will ban PFAS from food packing, becoming the first nation to institute such a policy. In the U.S., Washington is the first state to ban PFAS in paper food packaging.

“The heavier that we ban it, the more we would force companies and universities to look for alternatives,” Vasiliou said. “Our focus is to put it in the national level.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, is working to ban PFAS nationally. DeLauro said in a statement to the News that she voted to pass a ban on using PFAS in military food packing and urges “the House-Senate conference committee to adopt this
important amendment.

“I have brought together experts in both Connecticut and in Washington, D.C., to brief my colleagues and the public on the danger of PFAS in food packaging,” said Delauro in a statement to the News. “I also requested that the Government Accountability Office conduct a comprehensive investigation into the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging.” Delauro’s New Haven office is located at 59 Elm St.

David Guo | ziyang.guo@yale.edu