Food Supply Chain Imperiled by PFAS-Laden Barrels
EPA Confirms PFAS in Fluorinated Containers Leach into Contents
Washington, DC — A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study shows that toxic PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) leach from the inside coating of shipping containers into the products they contain. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who first alerted the agency to this PFAS contamination in 2020, is urging EPA and other regulatory authorities to take immediate action to stem this source of PFAS since fluorinated containers are used to ship foods and agricultural products around the country and world.
Although EPA has yet to regulate PFAS, the agency earlier this year concluded that there is virtually no safe level in drinking water for two forms of PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) used in the study. Entitled “Results of EPA’s Analytical Chemistry Branch Laboratory Study of PFAS Leaching from Fluorinated HDPE Containers” and released last week, this study found –
- Even purified water in these fluorinated containers will cause PFAS to leach out into the water – no corrosive solvents are necessary;
- After just one day, water had as much as 103 parts-per-trillion (ppt) of PFAS from the barrels. After 20 weeks, the amount rose up to 2,888 ppt. By contrast, the EPA Health Advisory threshold for PFOA, one of eight PFAS tested, is only four parts per quadrillion (ppq); and
- Levels were much higher when methanol was used as the solvent (up to 14,720 ppt).
“We very much appreciate EPA doing this study. It was comprehensive and yielded valuable results,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, whose earlier testing showing PFAS in insecticide that first raised alarms. “Now, EPA needs to act on this study’s results.”
Fluorinated containers are widely used to ship foods, cosmetics, fragrances, health care products, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture products, such as pesticides. While the true extent of this inadvertent source of PFAS contamination is unknown, the potential impacts are huge. These chemicals do not readily break down in the environment and often bioaccumulate in the food chain and body.
Despite this serious concern, EPA has yet to issue a mandatory recall or take any other direct action. In its public statement on releasing the study, the agency merely says –
“In a shared interest to remove PFAS from the environment, if companies find PFAS in their products, they should notify EPA and take action to remove contaminated product.”
“Unfortunately, EPA’s pace of action on this issue is more glacial than galloping,” added Bennett, noting that EPA is slow-walking a year-old Freedom of Information Act request from PEER seeking documents indicating what the agency is actually doing to address the issue. “Without the threat of a regulatory cudgel, private companies have no incentive – if not a distinct disincentive – to test. EPA should require testing and immediately ban the use of fluorinated containers, especially for food products and pesticides sprayed on food.”