California Signs New PFAS Laws Regulating Children’s Products and Food Packaging

On October 5, 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two laws further restricting the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” California will now ban such compounds in many children’s products and in disposable food packaging.

One of California’s new PFAS laws (AB 652) will bar the use of PFAS in the manufacture of children’s products, including car seats, pillows, bassinets, changing pads, playmats, bouncers, walkers, strollers, and cribs. On and after July 1, 2023, this law prohibits a person, including a manufacturer, from selling or distributing in commerce in [California] any new, not previously owned, juvenile product that contains regulated PFAS. The law specifically excepts from regulation medical devices, and “children’s electronic products, including, but not limited to, a personal computer, audio and video equipment, calculator, wireless phone, game console, handheld device incorporating a video screen, or any associated peripheral such as a mouse, keyboard, power supply unit, or power cord.” Under the law, even if PFAS is not intentionally added to the product, the product can still be regulated if “the presence of PFAS in a product or product component [is] at or above 100 parts per million, as measured in total organic fluorine.” The bill also requires a manufacturer to use the least toxic alternative when replacing PFAS chemicals in these covered products.

The second law (AB 1200), set to take effect on January 1, 2023, will ban “intentionally added” PFAS from food packaging, require companies that make cookware to disclose on their product labels whether they use PFAS, and include a statement regarding how a consumer can obtain more information about the chemicals in the cookware. The bill defines “food packaging,” in part, to mean a nondurable package, packaging component, or food service ware that is comprised, in substantial part, of paper, paperboard, or other materials originally derived from plant fibers. Similarly, this law requires a manufacturer, in order to comply, to use the least toxic alternative when replacing regulated PFAS in these food-packaging products.

Earlier this year, California required manufacturers of carpets and rugs to consider less toxic alternatives to PFAS (which is said to pose an exposure risk to children). Further, existing law in California, beginning January 1, 2025, will prohibit (except under specified circumstances) the manufacture, sale, delivery, hold, or offer for sale in commerce of any cosmetic product that contains any of several specified intentionally-added PFAS ingredients.

Because the federal government so far has only issued Health Advisory (HA) levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—the two most-talked-about chemicals in the PFAS family—increasingly we see states like California taking it upon themselves to regulate these chemicals. The HA is a non-regulatory and unenforceable recommendation, and does not represent a definitive line of demarcation between safe and unsafe conditions, but rather provides a margin of protection from possible adverse health effects for individuals throughout a lifetime of exposure.