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February 20, 2024 Agency Capture Big Chemical News

Toxic Exposures

EPA Illegally Hid Health, Safety Data on PFAS Found in Millions of Plastic Containers

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Environmental Health last week sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly withholding data on toxic “forever chemicals” in high-density polyethylene plastic containers.

PFAS 3D letters with image of EPA website home screen

By Shannon Kelleher

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is breaking the law by concealing health and safety data about a class of toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in millions of plastic containers, two environmental advocacy groups allege.

The agency is refusing to turn over data on toxic PFAS in high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic containers produced by the company Inhance Technologies, citing “confidential business information.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Environmental Health have been seeking data held by the EPA about the company and its containers through a 2023 Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA request.

But the agency has redacted and withheld key information, the groups allege.

They filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Feb.15 claiming the agency is violating the Toxic Substances Control Act by refusing to provide the requested data for public scrutiny.

“The cloak of confidential business information cannot be used to hide health and safety studies as EPA is currently doing,” Colleen Teubner, a PEER lawyer, said in a press release. “By sitting on this critical information, EPA is advancing the private interests of a corporate violator and shirking its public health responsibilities.”

The groups sent a demand letter to the EPA in November 2023, arguing that the agency “has no statutory basis” for its refusal to turn over information.

Last year, the EPA ordered Inhance to stop making plastic containers that contain PFAS following legal pressure from PEER and the Center for Environmental Health. That order is set to go into effect Feb. 28.

PFAS should not be in the plastic containers people use every day, period,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement released on Dec. 1, 2023, when EPA issued the order.

Inhance is the only U.S. company that manufactures its containers using a type of fluorination process that results in the formation of toxic PFAS chemicals.

Thirteen PFAS chemicals have been identified in Inhance’s containers, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which was recently classified as carcinogenic to humans by an international cancer research organization.

The company manufactures about 200 million containers using the fluorination process each year.

PFAS do not break down naturally and are found in the blood of 97% of Americans.

The chemicals have been linked to many health problems, including thyroid problems and liver, kidney and testicular cancer.

Studies have demonstrated that PFAS in the walls of HDPE containers, which are used for packaging everything from food products to cleaning supplies to cosmetics, leach into their contents, unwittingly exposing consumers to PFAS in products they use every day.

Originally published by The New Lede

Shannon Kelleher is a reporter for The New Lede.

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