We have been waiting decades, but finally, during the past couple years we have seen lawsuits filed against Corporate America begin to pick up steam and hold manufacturers’ feet to the fire for exposing consumers to their products filled with toxic chemicals. During the past couple years we have published accounts of lawsuits against the manufacturers of food items, pet food, talc/baby powder, weedkiller, home care and hair care products. We have also noted that due to the enhanced public awareness of one family of chemicals in particular, PFAS, there would be many, many lawsuits coming down the pike. There have already been lawsuits in the past couple years against manufacturers for toxins in food packaging, but now there is a new lawsuit filed against one of the largest food and product container producers in the U.S., and it holds the potential to be a big one…
Lawsuit Against Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Everyday Food and Products
Based on the results of a new, yet to be published scientific study, a new lawsuit filed by consumer groups says many plastic containers used in the U.S. to hold food, drinks, cleaning supplies, personal care items and other consumer products are likely contaminated with toxic PFAS*. And, in an unusual move, the lawsuit is asking federal courts to halt their production.
The new lawsuit was filed under a provision in U.S. law that allows citizens to bring suits against polluters allegedly violating rules and not being held accountable by regulatory agencies.
The suit references soon-to-be-published research** that found PFAS from HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic containers leach toxic PFAS chemicals at extremely high levels into ketchup, mayonnaise, olive oil and everyday products.
The Target of the Lawsuit
“Inhance, a Houston-based company named as a defendant, produces tens of millions of consumer containers that contain PFAS, say the consumer advocacy groups behind the lawsuit. The plaintiffs asked a judge to order Inhance to follow Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that require it to receive approval for its production process. The groups also charge that regulators have known of the potential health threat since early 2021 but have failed to eliminate it.
“Inhance treats plastic containers with fluorinated gas to create a barrier that helps keep products from degrading. The consumer groups say the process creates PFAS as a byproduct, including PFOA, one of the most dangerous of the class. EPA rules implemented in 2020 require companies manufacturing long-chain PFAS to submit for a safety review and approval. The suit alleges that Inhance failed to do so, and asks a judge to order the company “to cease and desist from all manufacture and processing of [long chain PFAS] during the fluorination of plastic containers”.” (source)
Oh yeah, the U.S. Government Knew that PFAS was leaching from Inhance Containers into Food & Products
Court filings show the EPA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew of the contamination over the last two years but have failed to stop production. (source)
The EPA in January, 2021 subpoenaed Inhance for information on its process. Over a year later, in March, 2022, the EPA issued a violation notice ordering Inhance to “immediately cease” production if it had not yet eliminated the PFAS contamination. Inhance did not respond to the EPA violation notice until September, 2022, stating it would submit its process for review while refusing to cease production. Still, the EPA did not file a lawsuit or alert the public.
The consumer groups behind the new lawsuit grew suspicious that contaminated bottles were being widely used by food and product manufacturers and distributed across the U.S. In July 2022, container testing began by scientists. Based on the scientific testing results, the consumer groups filed the new lawsuit. Once the new consumer lawsuit was filed, finally, the EPA filed suit against Inhance in late December, 2022. The EPA’s lawsuit was heavily redacted to conceal any mention of the company’s PFAS production because the agency cannot reveal confidential business practices. The redactions make it unclear if the EPA is asking the court to order Inhance to immediately halt production. The EPA did not comment. (source)
*PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. They are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in thousands of consumer and industrial products and are typically used to make products resist water, stains and heat, including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”. PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body. PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems, endocrine problems (PFAS has been found to disrupt hormonal functions with some research suggesting that the PFAS chemicals are linked to accelerated ovarian aging, period irregularities and ovarian disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome) and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, so in some cases, science simply cannot detect the toxic chemicals when testing for it in blood.
** The scientists testing food and product containers found two PFAS compounds leached at levels millions of times above the EPA advisory limits for drinking water. No legal limits have yet been set for food or for some compounds found in containers, though some governments are moving to ban the entire PFAS class.
The scientists note that products leach more PFAS the longer they remain in the container. Sturdier containers are more likely to have PFAS than those that crumple easily.
There are some steps you and your family can take to minimize the level of exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals in your food, drinks, household and personal care products. First, wherever possible, avoid commercially processed food (and personal care products) and make your own meals, snacks, desserts and drinks (as well as moisturizers and other personal care products) using fresh, whole ingredients. Secondly, since the scientific research indicates the PFAS levels leaching into food and products increases over time, throw out condiments and other food/drinks (as well as cosmetics/personal care products) packaged in plastic containers that have been setting in your refrigerator or cabinets for a protracted period of time. Third, the research results demonstrated that food/drinks, home care and personal care products packaged in sturdy plastic containers had more PFAS chemicals leaching into the contents than did the softer, squishier plastic containers. If you are unsure if something is packaged in sturdy or soft plastic, try to crush it when the contents are gone. If you can easily crush the plastic, it is likely to have leached lower PFAS levels into the food or product than the more sturdy plastic containers which are more difficult to crush. And fourth, in cases where you are unable to make your own food, drinks and products, whenever possible, choose food and products sold in glass (or metal, sans BPA/BPS) rather than plastic.
Journal reference: This research will be published soon by lead author Dr. Heather Whitehead, University of Notre Dame, and colleagues. The study found the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals at high levels in the plastic containers of numerous everyday consumer foods and products. Stay tuned for full reference when it is available.