Environmentalists Sue EPA for Data on Health Risks of Forever Chemicals

February 16, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Environmentalists Sue EPA for Data on Health Risks of Forever Chemicals
The Environmental Protection Agency.

WASHINGTON — Environmentalists sued the Environmental Protection Agency this week in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking information about health risks from forever chemicals in fluorinated plastic containers.

The two groups that sued accuse the EPA of withholding information about PFAS. They are called forever chemicals because they can take centuries to break down in the environment.

Fluorinated containers that contain PFAS are used for many applications, including pharmaceuticals, food and beverages. Fluorination makes the plastic stronger and prevents fluids and oxygen from leaching into the containers.

The Food and Drug Administration approved manufacturing and sales of fluorinated containers.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Environmental Health said in their lawsuit PFAS are associated with cancer, impaired fetal development as well as liver and thyroid problems.

Center for Environmental Health attorney Bob Sussman said in a statement, “Given the unquestionably major public health stakes, EPA should be stepping up and maximizing access to health and safety data, but the agency is disclosing vital information only grudgingly and with lingering secrecy even though disclosure is mandated by [the Toxic Substances Control Act].”

The Toxic Substances Control Act requires the EPA to protect the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” by regulating the manufacturing, processing, distribution, use, sale and disposal of chemicals. 

Some environmentalists say the law is too weak in its mandate for chemical companies to disclose sufficient data on hazardous traits in their products.

The EPA is supposed to turn over its records on its investigations of chemical producers when members of the public file Freedom of Information Act requests.

The only U.S. manufacturer of fluorinated containers is Houston-based Inhance Technologies LLC. The company produces about 200 million of the containers per year.

On Jan. 5, 2023, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Environmental Health submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA seeking evidence PFAS can seep into foods packaged in Inhance’s fluorinated containers.

The environmental groups said they based their request on information from EPA and Inhance’s research studies.

The EPA gave the groups four sets of documents with redacted PFAS test results. The environmentalists say the EPA declined to give them hundreds of more responsive documents, saying they fell under an exception to the FOIA disclosure requirements for “confidential business information.”

The environmentalists then sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“The cloak of confidential business information cannot be used to hide health and safety studies as EPA is currently doing,” said Colleen Teubner, an attorney for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “By sitting on this critical information, EPA is advancing the private interests of a corporate violator and shirking its public health responsibilities.”

The plaintiffs accuse the EPA of a cover-up, based partly on the fact the agency has ordered Inhance to stop producing PFAS during its fluorination process for plastics no later than Feb. 28, 2024.

The EPA’s order said PFAS in fluorinated containers constitute “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

Inhance is contesting the EPA’s order in a lawsuit pending in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“A full response to the FOIA request, including disclosure of the unlawfully withheld data, will better enable the public to understand the basis for these orders and the risks to consumers and workers of handling and using PFAS-containing fluorinated containers,” a Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility press release says.

The EPA has declined to comment. “Because this is pending litigation, EPA has no further information to provide,” EPA spokesman Jeff Landis told The Well News.

The environmentalists’ case is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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