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Appeals court overturns EPA's ban on plastic containers contaminated with toxic chemicals: 'This case isn't over by any stretch'

The ruling came after four years of legal back and forth.

The ruling came after four years of legal back and forth.

Photo Credit: iStock

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a Texas-based company to halt a manufacturing process that used toxic chemicals. That ban has been overturned.

What happened?

The Guardian reported March 30 that Inhance Technologies won its appeal against the EPA. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency had prohibited the company from using its fluorination process for plastic containers because it "resulted in the creation" of forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, according to court documents

However, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the decision, stating that the control act only applied to "significant new use" and "new chemical substances." 

Inhance had been using its methods, which prevent the plastic containers from degrading, since 1983, but in 2020, per The Guardian, the EPA found that forever chemicals were seeping into pesticides stored in containers by Inhance. 

"Because Inhance did not possess 'extraordinary intuition' or the 'aid of a psychic' to foresee that the EPA would regulate the fluorination industry, Inhance faces being shuttered by the agency's belated 'discovery' of its process," the court wrote

The EPA on April 10 did separately impose new limits on PFAS in drinking water across the county, requiring "that public water systems monitor and inform the public of levels of PFAS in drinking water," per USA Today.

Why is this ruling concerning?

The court did not deny that exposure to forever chemicals was a concern, as reported by The Guardian. 

"The court did not dispute EPA's underlying decision that this is a danger to human health. What they did was say it's not a new use, which I think is wrong … but this case isn't over by any stretch," said Kyla Bennett, a former EPA official who now works for the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Forever chemicals, which are present in everyday products such as nonstick cookware and cosmetics, stay in the human body for years and years. They have been linked to certain cancers, immune system dysfunction, reproductive issues, and other severe health problems. 

What can be done about this?

The EPA told The Guardian that it was considering its options after the decision, which came after four years of legal back and forth between Inhance and the agency.

"Given how strong the EPA's orders [to ban the containers] were, I can't imagine they will throw their hands up and walk away," Bennett noted

As noted above, the EPA has been pursuing stricter action around PFAS in other ways, and new nationwide limits on allowable levels in drinking water are a major victory for all Americans to better trust the safety of tap water at home and in restaurants and other food and drinks that use water sourced from municipal systems. 

Supporting brands that avoid these chemicals is one way to limit your exposure to them in your day-to-day activities, and scientists have been working toward a healthier future as well, including by finding ways to remove PFAS from our drinking water.

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