3M will stop making chemicals forever

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Consumer products giant 3M announced Tuesday that it will stop manufacturing and using a ubiquitous class of dangerous, long-acting chemicals that could pose health risks to millions of Americans.

The Minnesota-based group, which makes widely used products including sticky notes, tape and safety masks, has vowed to “go out of all manufacturing” and “work to stop the use of” perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, across its products by the end of 2025, according to a press release. Known as “forever chemicals,” these compounds do not degrade naturally and have been found in the water supplies of communities across the country.

“Through these two actions, 3M is committed to innovating toward a world less dependent on PFAS,” the statement said.

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Tuesday’s announcement comes as 3M faces an onslaught of lawsuits from states and individuals who claim contamination from PFAS has harmed their health. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that long-term legal liabilities could cost the company $30 billion or more. 3M’s current annual net sales of manufactured PFAS is approximately $1.3 billion, according to the company.

Exposure to certain levels of PFAS chemicals has been linked to infertility, growth problems or delays in children, and several types of cancer, among other health concerns. Despite these known risks to humans, the chemicals, which help make consumer goods 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 said it would establish applicable drinking water limits on certain vehicles.

Since then, the EPA has publicly warned that the chemicals pose a greater risk to human health than regulators previously believed. In August, the agency also proposed that two of the most common chemical compounds — PFOA and PFOS — be classified as dangerous.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Reagan chirp It emerged Tuesday that “protecting people from PFAS contamination is one of my top priorities,” and 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 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 remains “essential to modern life.” The company said the latest decision was “based on an evolving outdoor landscape,” citing regulatory crackdowns and pressure from consumers and investors.

“While PFAS can be safely manufactured and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and commercial landscape to make the greatest impact on those we serve,” Mike Roman, 3M Chairman and CEO, said in the press release.

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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 we will continue to innovate new solutions for customers.”

John Rumpler, senior director of clean water at Environment America, called 3M’s announcement “good 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.

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Others questioned the company’s motives.

Eric Olson, chief strategy officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that 3M’s announcement almost certainly stems in part from the “enormous responsibility” the company faces.

“Virtually every American walks around with PFAS on their bodies,” Olson said. “The handwriting on the wall is that continuing to make these chemicals puts shareholders and their companies at risk.”

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Olson and other environmental advocates hope that 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals sends a strong signal to other companies “to follow suit and get out of these dangerous chemistry,” he said. But he doubts 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.


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