3M will stop manufacturing and using dangerous ‘chemicals forever’

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

The Minnesota-based conglomerate, which makes widely used products including sticky notes, masking tape and safety masks, has pledged to “abandon all manufacturing” and “work to discontinue use” of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substancesor PFAS, on all of its products by the end of 2025, according to a Press release. More commonly known as “forever chemicals,” the compounds do not break down naturally and have been found in the water supplies of communities across the country.

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

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Tuesday’s announcement comes as 3M faces a spate of lawsuits from states and individuals who claim PFAS contamination harmed their health. Bloomberg Intelligence Dear long-term legal liabilities could end up costing the company $30 billion or more. Current annual net sales of 3M’s manufactured PFAS are about $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 various types of cancer, among other health problems. Despite these known risks to humans, the chemicals, which help make consumer goods resistant to water, as well as stains and grease, continue to show up in products like cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging and clothes.

the Biden administration has taken steps to regulate PFAS in several ways. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would set mandatory 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 classification two of the most common of these chemical compounds – PFOA and PFOS – as dangerous.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “protecting people from PFAS contamination is one of my top priorities,” vowing to “hold polluters accountable and protect public health.”

Major US manufacturers, including 3M, have long agreed to stop manufacturing PFOA and PFOS after their health risks became apparent. 3M committed in 2000 to phase out the two chemicals, but continued to use other kinds of “forever chemicals,” of which there are thousands with different properties.

on Tuesday advertisement, 3M argued that the class of chemicals remains “essential to modern life.” The latest decision “is based on an evolving external landscape,” the company said, noting the regulatory crackdown, as well as pressure from consumers and investors.

“While PFAS can be manufactured and used safely, we also see an opportunity to lead a rapidly evolving external business and regulatory landscape to achieve the greatest impact for those we serve,” said 3M President and CEO, Mike Roman, 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 in the last three years through continuous research and development, and we will continue to innovate new solutions for customers.”

John Rumpler, Environment America’s senior director of clean water, 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,” it said in a statement.

Biden administration moves to reduce 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 surely stems in part from the “massive liability” the company faces.

“Virtually all Americans are walking with PFAS in their bodies,” Olson said. “It’s written on the wall that continuing to make these chemicals is putting your shareholders and your company at risk.”

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Olson and other environmental advocates hope that 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals will send a powerful signal to other companies to “follow its lead and get out of this dangerous chemistry,” he said. But he is skeptical of that happening quickly.

“There is a risk that others will see a void to fill,” he said.

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Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.

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