PFAS food packaging

Alabama PFAS manufacturing plant creates the climate pollution of 125,000 cars

The manufacturing plant responsible for PFAS-coated fast food packaging pumps out loads of a banned ozone-depleting compound along with "forever chemicals."

As evidence mounts that hamburger wrappers and other kinds of grease-proof packaging contaminate food with PFAS, states have started banning the toxic chemicals from food packaging.


Now, a new report provides yet another reason to remove PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, from food wrappers: climate and ozone pollution.

PFAS exposure is linked to immune and developmental system effects, increased risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers, and higher cholesterol, among other health effects. The Daikin America plant in Decatur, Alabama, which manufactures PFAS used to coat food packaging and textiles, released 240,584 pounds of the ozone-depleting chemical Chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22)—the global warming equivalent of one billion pounds of carbon dioxide—in 2019, according to a new report out Thursday from the nonprofit Toxic-Free Future.

Related: Global action on harmful PFAS chemicals is long overdue: Study

While HCFC-22, used in refrigeration, was banned at the start of last year under the Montreal Protocol, companies are still allowed to produce the compound as a byproduct of making other substances. Advocates say the new report highlights the need to close that loophole—and to use PFAS-free food packaging alternatives.

"The entire world is scrambling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before their damage to our climate is beyond repair, yet we are letting a company dump hundreds of thousands of pounds of hydrochlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere so that it can produce 'forever chemicals' that poison our communities?" Peggy Shepard, executive director of the nonprofit WE ACT for Environmental Justice, who was not involved in the report, said in a prepared statement. "Where is the justice in that?"

Far-reaching impacts of PFAS production

PFAS chemicals

Credit: Path of Toxic Pollution report

The impetus for the study was to learn more about the impacts of PFAS-containing products before they get to consumers or end up in landfills, Erika Schreder, science director of Toxic-Free Future, told EHN. The researchers found that there appears to be only one plant in the U.S. that makes PFAS for fast food packaging coating.

Daikin America, which also emits 55,000 pounds a year of the carcinogen tetrafluoroethylene, is the number two emitter in the country of HCFC-22 after the Chemours chemical manufacturing plant in Louisville, Kentucky, according to the report.

The authors also looked at the upstream pollution from the paper mills that coat food packaging with Daikin's PFAS product, estimating that each mill releases around 180 pounds of PFAS a day into waterways, with an additional 1,260 pounds ending up in sludge at wastewater treatment plants. "We have to remember that whenever PFAS is used, it's part of the drinking water contamination problem," said Schreder, noting that landfills have been a major source of PFAS pollution around the country.

Health problems near PFAS plant 

Decatur's PFAS manufacturing plant was originally built in 1961 by 3M, which sold the facility to Daikin America in 2014. Concerns about the plant, and other factories in the industrial area, have been around for decades, Brenda Hampton, a local resident and founder of Concerned Citizens of WMEL Water Authority, told EHN. Hampton and her mother both experienced kidney failure, and residents have come down with unusual forms of cancer and respiratory problems, she said.

Federal health authorities have tied elevated levels of PFAS in residents' blood to drinking water contamination downstream of that and another area plant, with Daikin agreeing to pay the local water authority $5 million in 2017 to help pay for a water filtration system, according to the report.

Last month, an employee at the Daikin America plant died after being exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job, local TV station WAFF-48 reported. Last year, OSHA fined the company $40,482 for alleged hazardous chemical management and respiratory protection violations, according to the new report.

"In this day and time, we should have [jobs and food] out there that won't be as toxic to people," said Hampton.

The report authors issue a number of recommendations, such as manufacturers paying for PFAS cleanup in affected communities, the EPA banning the production of HCFC-22 as an intermediary in PFAS manufacturing, and restaurant chains removing PFAS from food wrappers. With PFAS already banned from food packaging in states including Washington and Connecticut, some chains, like McDonald's, have recently agreed to phase out PFAS-coated packaging.

Daikin did not respond to requests for a comment on the new report.

Banner photo credit: Crispin Semmens/flickr

Cancer-causing benzene levels were cut in half at US refineries in 2023: Report

Texas refineries, however, still have some work to do.

HOUSTON — The number of U.S. oil refineries exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for benzene in 2023 was cut in half compared to 2020, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.
Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
DeSantis & Florida climate denial
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

DeSantis eliminates climate change from Florida's energy policy

Florida will no longer prioritize climate change in energy decisions, despite facing severe environmental threats, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed new legislation.

Anna Phillips reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less
biodiversity resilience
Credit: Don Henderson/Flickr

Protecting species from extinction is not enough

The loss of species abundance poses a serious threat to biodiversity and ecosystem functionality.

John Reid reports for The Atlantic.

Keep reading...Show less

North Atlantic's record heat waves may fuel an intense hurricane season

A marine heat wave in the North Atlantic has set daily temperature records for over a year, raising concerns about its potential to drive an unusually severe hurricane season.

Chelsea Harvey reports for E&E News.

Keep reading...Show less

US imposes tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles to protect domestic industry

President Joe Biden's administration has increased tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, a move supported by U.S. automakers to shield local jobs and investments from low-cost imports.

Neal E. Boudette reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

US banks facilitate clean energy transition through municipal bond market

The use of municipal bonds to finance clean energy initiatives is gaining traction, enabling significant savings for towns and communities in their pursuit of renewable energy goals.

Meg Duff reports for Capital & Main.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
air pollution pittsburgh

Amidst a controversial international sale, U.S. Steel falls behind in cleaner steelmaking

U.S. Steel’s proposed sale to Nippon Steel stokes concerns over labor rights and national security, all while the company continues to break clean air laws in Western Pennsylvania.

exxon houston petrochemicals

Spanish-speaking residents feel left out of permitting process at massive Exxon petrochemical plant in Houston-area

“It is important to ensure meaningful engagement efforts are inclusive and accessible to all diverse members of our communities.”

youth climate change

"Our lives might be on the line"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.

sargassum

After 13 years, no end in sight for Caribbean sargassum invasion

Thousands of people were hurt by sargassum blooms last year in the Caribbean.

youth climate change

“We should take care of what is precious to us"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.

earth day 2024

Earth Day reflections from the next generation

This week we're featuring essays from Houston-area eighth graders to hear what the youth think about the state of our planet.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.