“With these two actions, 3M is committing to innovate toward a world less dependent on PFAS,” the release said.
EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought
Tuesday’s announcement comes as 3M faces an onslaught of lawsuits from states and individuals who claim PFAS contamination harmed their health. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that long-term legal liabilities could end up costing the company $30 billion or more. 3M’s current annual net sales of manufactured PFAS are approximately $1.3 billion, according to the company.
Exposure to certain levels of PFAS chemicals has been linked to infertility, developmental problems or delays in children, and several types of cancer, among other health problems. Despite these known risks to humans, the chemicals, which help make consumer goods resistant to water, stains and grease, continue to appear in products such as cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging and clothing.
The Biden administration has taken steps to regulate PFAS in various ways. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would set enforceable drinking water limits for certain compounds.
Since then, the EPA has publicly warned that the chemicals pose a greater danger to human health than regulators previously thought. In August, the agency also proposed to classify two of the most common of these chemical compounds — PFOA and PFOS — as hazardous.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “protecting people from PFAS contamination is one of my top priorities,” and he vowed “to hold polluters accountable and protect public health.”
Major US manufacturers including 3M have long agreed to stop making PFOA and PFOS after their health risks became clear. 3M committed in 2000 to phasing out the two chemicals, but they continued to use other types of “forever chemicals,” of which there are thousands with varying properties.
In Tuesday’s announcement, 3M asserted that the class of chemicals continues to be “essential to modern life.” The latest decision “is based on an evolving external landscape,” the company said, pointing to regulatory violations as well as pressure from consumers and investors.
“While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to have the greatest impact for those we serve,” 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in the press release.
The EPA is finally moving to label some “forever chemicals” as hazardous
The company did not say exactly how it plans to achieve its goals, noting: “We have already reduced our use of PFAS over the past three years through ongoing research and development, and will continue to innovate new solutions for customers.”
John Rumpler, senior director of clean water for Environment America, called 3M’s announcement “great news for clean water.”
“For the sake of our health and our environment, we hope 3M will phase out PFAS production before 2025 and that other companies will follow suit,” he said in a statement.
Biden Administration Moves to Limit Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’
Others questioned the company’s motivation.
Erik Olson, senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that 3M’s announcement almost certainly stems in part from the “massive responsibility” the company faces.
“Almost all Americans are walking around with PFAS in their bodies,” Olson said. “The writing is on the wall that continuing to make these chemicals puts your shareholders and your company at risk.”
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Olson and other environmentalists hope 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals sends a powerful signal to other companies to “follow suit and get out of this dangerous chemistry,” he said. But he is skeptical that it will happen quickly.
“There is a risk that others will see a void that needs to be filled,” he said.
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Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.