"These PFAS-laden containers present an ongoing danger to workers, consumers, and the environment," said one campaigner.
A pair of nonprofit advocacy groups on Tuesday sued a Texas company in a bid to stop it from generating so-called "forever chemicals" while manufacturing plastic containers.
The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed the federal environmental lawsuit in Washington, D.C. alleging Houston-based Inhance Technologies USA is violating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) during the fluorination of plastic containers used to hold food, personal care items, and many other products.
"We are acting now because EPA has dragged its feet in ensuring that Inhance comes immediately into compliance with the law and stopping TSCA violations that represent a serious and ongoing threat to human health."
Fluorination involves the high-temperature application of fluorine gas to plastic containers. Inhance, which fluorinates containers at several U.S. plants, is the nation's top supplier of post-mold fluorination services.
The suit claims fluorinated products made by Inhance contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are "often called 'forever chemicals' because they do not break down or degrade over time." PFAS are found in drinking water, soil, wildlife—and people—around the world.
"EPA and other authorities have generally found that PFAS have properties of high persistence, significant bio-accumulation, and severe toxicity to human health," the complaint notes.
Used in a sweeping range of products from clothing to nonstick cookware to firefighting foam, PFAS have been linked to cancers of the kidneys and testicles, low infant weight, suppressed immune function, and other adverse health effects.
"These PFAS-laden containers present an ongoing danger to workers, consumers, and the environment," CEH petrochemicals, plastics, and climate program director Sarah Packer asserted in a statement. "The fluorination process contributes to the overall prevalence of this already-ubiquitous class of chemicals and could be introducing FPAS into the recycling stream, as many of these containers bear recycling symbols."
"Inhance, the company that performs most of the fluorination in the U.S., has refused to comply with TSCA and must be ordered to stop this unsafe practice."
"Inhance, the company that performs most of the fluorination in the U.S., has refused to comply with TSCA and must be ordered to stop this unsafe practice for the health of workers, nearby communities, consumers, and all who encounter these commonly used containers or the products stored in them," Packer added.
PEER executive director Tim Whitehouse—who is also a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement lawyer—said that "the leaching of PFAS from packaging and containers threatens our food supply and exposes all of us to harmful toxic chemicals."
"We are acting now because EPA has dragged its feet in ensuring that Inhance comes immediately into compliance with the law and stopping TSCA violations that represent a serious and ongoing threat to human health," he added.
In a statement last week, Inhance Technologies said the company "believes we have been, and continue to be, in full compliance with all relevant regulations and regulatory guidance, and are operating safely, responsibly and lawfully," while claiming it "embraces" EPA efforts "to ensure science-based decision-making as it relates" to PFAS.
The new lawsuit came six weeks after the state of California sued 18 manufacturers including 3M—one of the world's largest chemical companies—for harming human health and the environment, and for deceptive practices. The California suit is one of more than 6,000 PFAS-related lawsuits filed in U.S. federal courts alone since 2005.
Increased activism and lawsuits targeting PFAS have raised public awareness of the dangers of "forever chemicals," resulting in the U.S. military announcing it will stop using PFAS in firefighting foam by 2024 and 3M committing to ending PFAS production by the end of the following year.