“With these two actions, 3M remains committed to innovating toward a world less dependent on PFAS,” the release said.
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Tuesday’s announcement comes at a time when 3M is facing lawsuits from states and individuals who claim contamination from PFAS has harmed their health. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the long-term legal liabilities could cost the company $30 billion or more. According to the company, current annual net sales of PFAS manufactured by 3M are approximately $1.3 billion.
Exposure to certain levels of PFAS chemicals has been linked to infertility, developmental issues 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, appear in products such as cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging, and clothing.
The Biden administration has taken steps to regulate PFAS in a variety of ways. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would set limits on certain compounds in potable water.
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 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 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 to phase out the two chemicals in 2000, but it continues to use other types of “forever chemicals,” which have thousands of different properties.
In Tuesday’s announcement, 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, pointing to regulatory crackdowns as well as pressure from consumers and investors.
3M President and CEO Mike Roman said in the news release, “While PFAS can be manufactured and used safely, we must meet the rapidly evolving external regulatory and commercial challenges to make the greatest impact on those We also see an opportunity to lead across the landscape.”
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The company did not specify how it plans to achieve its goals, noting that, “We have already reduced our use of PFAS through ongoing research and development over the past three years, and Will continue to innovate new solutions for customers.”
John Rumpler, senior clean water director for Environment America, called 3M’s announcement “good news for clean water.”
“For the sake of our health and our environment, we hope that 3M will phase out PFAS production before 2025 and that other companies will follow,” he said in a statement.
Biden administration moves to curtail toxic ‘forever chemicals’
Others questioned the company’s motivation.
Eric Olson, a senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that 3M’s announcement is almost certainly linked to the “enormous liability” the company is facing.
“Almost every American is walking around with PFAS in their bodies,” Olson said. “The writing is on the wall that continuing to use these chemicals is putting his shareholders and his company at risk.”
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Olson and other environmental advocates are hoping that 3M’s decision to move away from PFAS chemicals sends a powerful signal to other companies to “comply and get out of this dangerous chemical.” But he doubts it will happen soon.
“There is a risk that others will appear to fill a void,” he said.
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Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.