Wanting to eliminate PFAS, a group of so-called forever chemicals, from plastics and actually eliminating PFAS from plastics are two different things. But Inteplast Engineered Films, the blown film maker, is committing to discontinuing use of the chemicals from production.
"We as an organization have made the decision that, in order to simplify things — because we do a mix of industrial and food packaging — the safest thing for us to do is to get rid of the PFAS substances out of our process," Sales Director Steve Griggs at IEF said in a recent interview.
But that's easier said than done. IEF historically has used PFAS as a processing aid to blow film.
"Where the PFAS comes in in our industry is we use them as a process aid. So basically when you make a film, there is a friction between the film and the die on which the film is coming out," explained Sumita Ranganathan, senior technical manager at IEF.
IEF, a division of Inteplast Group, already has identified alternative chemistries to replace PFAS as processing aides.
But, Griggs said, that's only part of the story as PFAS also can be found in resins, additives and colorants the company uses to create film products.
"That's where the challenge comes in," he said.
IEF is vetting each product that comes through its doors. But it is not always initially clear whether these raw materials contain PFAS, Griggs explained. The company sometimes has been told by suppliers that their products do not contain PFAS only to later discover they actually are present.
PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a widely used group of manufactured chemicals that have been around since the 1940s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The problem with PFAS reaches far beyond plastics. But make no mistake: Their use is under an ever-increasing spotlight.
While PFAS are used for plastic packaging, they also are used common products such as cleaners, paper, textiles and even cosmetics.
PFAS are especially alarming because they are hard to break down in the environment and can build up in people and wildlife over time. But they also dissolve in water and are not removed with traditional water treatment technologies.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences puts some perspective on what this means.
PFAS molecules link carbon and fluorine atoms, a particularly strong bond that results in longevity, according to NIEHS. Human exposure varies by occupation and location, but exposure is mostly like due to consumption of contaminated food or water, using products made from the chemicals or breathing air that contains PFAS.
One federal report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found PFAS in 97 percent of all Americans. And research has found the chemical group causes low birth weight, birth defects, delayed development and newborn deaths in laboratory animals, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"Because there are many types of PFAS chemicals, which often occur in complex mixtures and in various everyday products, researchers face challenges in studying them," NIEHS said.