“With these two actions, 3M is committed to innovating toward a world less dependent on PFAS,” the release said.
EPA warns of toxic ‘permanent chemicals’ more dangerous than previously thought
Tuesday’s announcement comes as 3M faces an onslaught of lawsuits from states and individuals who claim PFAS contamination has harmed their health. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that long-term legal obligations could wind up costing the company $30 billion or more. Current annual net sales of PFAS manufactured by 3M 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, chemicals that help make consumer products resistant to water, as well as 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 announced it would set drinking water application limits for certain compounds.
Since then, the EPA has publicly warned that the chemicals pose a greater risk to human health than regulators previously thought. In August, the agency also proposed that two of these chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, be classified as hazardous.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that “protecting people from PFAS contamination is one of my top priorities,” and he pledged to “hold polluters accountable and protect public health.”
Major US manufacturers, including 3M, have long agreed to stop producing PFOA and PFOS after their health risks became clear. 3M committed to phasing out both chemicals in 2000, but it has continued to use other types of “permanent chemicals,” of which there are thousands with different properties.
In a statement on Tuesday, 3M argued that the class of chemicals remains “essential to modern life.” The latest decision is “based on the evolving external landscape,” the company said, citing regulatory pressure as well as pressure from consumers and investors.
“While PFAS can be safely manufactured and used, we also see an opportunity to navigate the rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to maximize impact for those we serve,” said 3M President and CEO Mike Roman.
The EPA has finally made the decision to label some “permanent chemicals” as hazardous
The company did not say exactly how it plans to achieve its goals, noting: “We have already reduced the use of PFAS over the past three years through continuous research and development and will continue to innovate for customers.”
John Rumpler, senior director of clean water at Environment America, called 3M’s announcement “great news for clean water.”
“For the sake of our health and our environment, we hope that 3M will phase out PFAS production by 2025 and that other companies will follow suit,” he said in a statement.
Biden administration seeks to reduce toxic ‘forever chemicals’
Others questioned the company’s motivation.
Eric Olson, senior strategy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that 3M’s announcement almost certainly stems from the “massive responsibility” the company faces.
“Almost every American is walking around with PFAS in their bodies,” Olson said. “The writing is on the wall that continuing to produce these chemicals puts their shareholders and their company at risk.”
“It’s not a problem you can run away from.” communities face the threat of unregulated chemicals in their drinking water;
Olson and other environmental advocates hope 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals sends a strong signal to other companies to “follow suit and get out of this dangerous chemistry,” he said. But he’s skeptical that will happen quickly.
“There is a danger that others will see a gap to fill,” he said.
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Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.