The company 3M, which makes over 60,000 products, said Tuesday it will stop manufacturing toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” and work to discontinue use of PFAS in its products by the end of 2025.
The announcement comes amid a wave of lawsuits against the company and other manufacturers, alleging the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their products have endangered human health and the environment. Meanwhile, more and more states are banning PFAS in a range of consumer goods, with California recently restricting the chemicals in clothing and cosmetics.
More than 20 years ago, 3M committed to phasing out two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. But since then the company has manufactured various other PFAS, which belong to a class of thousands of chemicals.
“We know that 3M has known for decades that PFAS were harmful, said Lydia Jahl, a science and policy associate at the Green Science Policy Institute. “The writing was already on the wall and they’re just responding to that. I think they’re seeing that it’s expensive to produce PFAS because of all these lawsuits.”
Scientists have found that PFAS exposure is linked to a range of health problems, including heightened risk for cancer, birth defects, and liver disease. Part of the chemicals’ danger is also how slowly they degrade and how they accumulate in the body over time. Today, PFAS are present in the blood of an estimated 97% of Americans and have been found in many drinking water systems across the country.
Even as it announced its intention to phase out PFAS in a press release, and despite abundant scientific evidence about the chemicals’ health risks, 3M claimed the chemicals are both safe and necessary.
“This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for,” said 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman in a statement. “While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve.”
The press release also stated: “PFAS are critical in the manufacture of many products that are important for modern life, including medical technologies, semiconductors, batteries, phones, automobiles, and airplanes. 3M’s products are safe and effective for their intended uses.”
“For most uses now, you can get away with not using PFAS,” countered Jahl. “It has been an industry talking point for a while that PFAS are necessary, but that’s not true. And there are huge problems with production and disposal –that’s when so much of the PFAS gets into our drinking water, gets into groundwater, gets into our food.”
“I think they’re still not being fully transparent or factual about PFAS,” she added.
While Jahl said she is optimistic that 3M’s resolution is a sign of progress towards a world without PFAS, she noted that much more action is needed to reduce the chemicals’ toxic legacy.
“Stopping one company’s use in 2025 won’t have a huge impact unless we also stop all other uses and start cleaning up contaminated sites,” said Jahl.