The PFAS Fight

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By Leila Waid.

Environmental justice is in a constant legal battle that, depending on the court’s philosophy, sometimes sees wins for public health safety and but other times faces significant setbacks. March saw a major regression for plastic pollution regulation and the ongoing fight to ban PFAS. On March 21, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals – a conservative-leaning court that has obstructed substantial progressive policies over the years – blocked EPA efforts to ban PFAS in plastic containers.

The company behind the lawsuit is Inhance Technology, who specializes in treating plastics. Some of their listed services include “barrier packaging” and “surface technologies,” which they use to make plastics stronger and more durable. Although not explicitly stated on their website, the process by which they treat these plastics includes PFOA, a type of PFAS. PFAS are used in various products for their ability to repel water and oil. These properties allow for the stronger and more durable plastics. However they do not disclose or make it clear to the consumer that they are using a controversial chemical that has been linked in many health studies to various diseases and even death. In fact, Inhance Technologies goes as far as to promote their company as being eco-friendly, stating on their website that they “want to make things better for the world” by reducing plastic. This and other similar statements on the company website make it seem like they are protecting the environment when, in reality, they are contributing to the plastic pollution that endangers everyone’s health – a clear example of greenwashing.

In December 2023, the EPA sent a notice to Inhance Technologies to stop using PFAS in their manufacturing process. In response, they sued the agency. The main debate in the case was if the EPA had the right to put a stop to the process since Inhance had been using PFAS for over 40 years. The EPA argued that it only discovered the usage in 2020 so it should be considered a new process. Ultimately The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Inhance, stating the EPA did not have the right to place a restriction since it was not a new process, even if the EPA just found out about it. However, what if a company never discloses the use of harmful chemicals to the EPA? Using the logic and reasoning of this case, the EPA would be unable to block that process because they didn’t catch it in time. Notedly, the court did not deny the dangers of PFAS to the human body; they only overturned the restriction because the process was not new to Inhance.

What is most frustrating about environmental justice setbacks such as these is that, while the litigation is ongoing, the PFAS, or forever chemicals continue to be manufactured and cause massive pollution. Inhance Technologies argued that they can’t be restricted by the EPA under Section 5 because they have been treating plastics with PFAS for forty years. How much pollution have they added to the environment? How much more will be added by organizations such as these that hide behind a façade of greenwashing and yet contribute to so much of the environmental and human health degradation faced today. 

Court cases can take years to win. And during those years, PFAS continues to bioaccumulate within our bodies and environment. So, while immense national-level policies, such as the PFAS ban that the EPA tried to put in place, are extremely important, we also need to focus on individual and local-level change. For example, we must educate ourselves and our communities about the dangers of PFAS and become informed consumers of what plastic-containing products we buy. If we know that a company uses PFAS in its manufacturing process or partners with companies that do, then we need to be mindful of that and boycott those products. 

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The PFAS Fight

By Leila Waid. Environmental justice is in a constant legal battle that, depending on the court’s philosophy, sometimes sees wins for public health safety and