COMMENTARY | Rooting PFAS Out of Our Food Chain

Jeff Ruch

Tags: , ,

Rooting PFAS Out of Our Food Chain

This commentary was originally published in the Winter 2024 edition of PEEReview.

Caption: Insidious Pollution. The fluorinated lining leaches PFAS into the contents of plastic containers.Culminating three years of legal and advocacy work by PEER and our partner, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an order in December prohibiting Inhance Technologies from producing per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) during its fluorination of high-density polyethylene plastic containers. This decision, if fully implemented, will protect millions from daily exposure to these dangerous substances that cause harm to health at extremely low levels of exposure.

Back in 2020, PEER discovered high levels of PFAS in a widely used pesticide in containers fluorinated by Inhance. Further testing by EPA in 2021 confirmed that the PFAS was leaching from the plastic containers into the pesticide. EPA also confirmed widespread PFAS contamination from other fluorinated products.

After EPA failed to act, in October 2022, PEER and CEH filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the principal manufacturer, Inhance, for unlawfully creating these toxic chemicals and thereby putting the health of consumers and workers at risk. In response, EPA finally filed suit against Inhance. PEER and CEH subsequently joined the government’s lawsuit as intervenors.

EPA’s press release on its December order contained unequivocal language on the dangers of PFAS in plastics:

“This action, taken under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), will help protect the public from exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals in containers used for a variety of household consumer, pesticide, fuel, automotive and other industrial products….

Inhance has historically fluorinated up to 200 million containers annually, which is more containers than there are households in America. The release of 2.2 Kg of these 9 PFAS could cause significant contamination of drinking water supplies leading to risks of adverse health effects in millions of people.”

What these bold words do not reveal is that EPA has known about this problem for more than 3 years and only took action against Inhance, by its own admission in court, to block PEER and CEH from obtaining a judicial enforcement order.

Unfortunately, EPA’s action did not invoke its emergency powers to order a recall for many millions of existing PFAS-laden containers stockpiled for future use. In addition, despite assurances to the contrary, EPA did not oppose Inhance’s successful motion to stay the effect of the ruling until a hearing before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals later this year.

As has been its habitual posture, EPA often only acts when it is forced to by citizen lawsuits. So, while important progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740