Faced with mounting legal battles, 3M is ending chemicals forever

Posted on

3M plans to phase out “chemicals forever” in the coming years, the manufacturing giant announced today. The announcement comes as the company faces a slew of lawsuits over its toxic legacy with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals.

Specifically, 3M says it will stop using forever chemicals in its product portfolio and “end all PFAS production by the end of 2025.” Currently, 3M has approximately $1.3 billion in annual sales of PFAS it produces. The chemicals have been incorporated into many of the most iconic products over the years, including Scotchgard fabric protector. In the 1960s, the company also collaborated with the Navy to develop fire-fighting foam using PFAS.

“PFAS are critical in the manufacture of many products important to modern life, including medical technologies, semiconductors, batteries, telephones, cars and aircraft,” the company continues to say in its press release today – despite its promise to leave chemicals behind forever.

The chemicals have been incorporated into many of the most iconic products over the years, including Scotchgard fabric protector

For decades, PFAS has been widely used in manufacturing due to its chemical resistance – a useful property when making products water and stain resistant or developing firefighting foam. Temperatures in excess of 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit) have been taken to break down the chemicals — and even then, PFAS are known to remain airborne after combustion.

So it’s no wonder that PFAS pollution has become so ubiquitous. Forever chemicals are found in soil, drinking water and human blood. It is often found in low concentrations and researchers are still trying to understand what that means for our health and the environment. But bigger problems have emerged for communities exposed to higher concentrations of PFAS in more polluted locations such as factories and military bases. Exposure to high levels of PFAS has been associated with greater risks of certain cancers, liver damage, elevated cholesterol and reproductive health problems.

That’s how 3M got itself into the legal trouble it’s dealing with right now, in the form of some 2,000 lawsuits, according to Bloomberg intelligence. For example, in November the state of California filed a lawsuit against 3M and other manufacturers for continuing to make PFAS products despite reportedly knowing about the dangers associated with them for decades. Minnesota filed a similar lawsuit against 3M, alleging that the company damaged drinking water and natural resources; it was settled in 2018. The company faces a possible $30 billion legal liability for the hundreds of products it has developed over the better part of a decade using PFAS, Bloomberg law reports.

In light of that risk, 3M said in its announcement today that it will “continue to reinstate PFAS and pursue litigation by defending ourselves in court or through negotiated resolutions, as the case may be.”

In 2000, 3M announced it would stop producing two of the most common types of forever chemicals: PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). But 3M continued to use other types of chemicals within the PFAS umbrella, of which there are about 9,000 different types.

Today’s press release from the company doesn’t say exactly what PFAS will replace. “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,” the announcement said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *