“With these two actions, 3M is committed to innovating toward a world less dependent on PFAS,” the release read.
EPA warns of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ that are more dangerous than once thought
Tuesday’s announcement comes as 3M faces a wave of lawsuits from states and individuals claiming PFAS contamination is harming their health. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that long-term legal obligations could cost 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 cancers, among other health problems. Despite these known risks to humans, the chemicals that make consumer goods resistant to water as well as stains and grease continue to show up in products such as cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging and clothing.
The Biden administration has taken steps to regulate PFAS in several 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 threat to human health than regulators previously believed. In August, the agency also proposed classifying 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 pollution 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 apparent. 3M promised in 2000 to phase out the two chemicals, but continued to use other types of “forever chemicals,” of which there are thousands with different properties.
In Tuesday’s announcement, 3M argued that the class of chemicals is still “essential to modern life.” The latest decision “is based on an evolving external landscape,” the company said, citing regulatory crackdowns and pressure from consumers and investors.
“While PFAS can be made and used safely, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to have the greatest impact on those we serve,” said 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman in the press release.
EPA is finally taking action to label some ‘forever chemicals’ as dangerous
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 the environment, we hope that 3M will phase out PFAS production before 2025 and that other companies will follow suit,” he said in a statement.
Biden administration tries to curtail toxic ‘forever chemicals’
Others questioned the company’s motivation.
Erik Olson, a 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 liability” facing the company.
“Virtually every American is walking around with PFAS in their body,” Olson said. “The handwriting is on the wall that continuing to make these chemicals puts their shareholders and their business at risk.”
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Olson and other environmentalists hope 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals sends a strong signal to other companies to “follow the lead and get out of this dangerous chemical,” he said. But he is skeptical that will happen soon.
“There is a risk that others see a void that needs to be filled,” he said.
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Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.