Manufacturing giant 3M announced plans on Tuesday to stop making products that contain a class of hazardous “forever chemicals” known as PFAS by the end of 2025, as researchers find dangerous concentrations of the chemicals in drinking water, and poor human health conditions from exposure to it.
3M, the Minnesota-based company behind Post-It notes and Scotch tape, said in a statement it will discontinue its use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in all of its products by the end of 2025.
PFAS, a set of chemicals in common water-proof clothing and non-stick materials like Teflon, earned a reputation as a high-performing synthetic starting in the 1940s, but has since become a monumental concern after researchers found alarming amounts of the chemicals in drinking water.
Scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry say the chemicals, which are suspected carcinogens, have been linked to increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high blood pressure in pregnant women and low infant birth rate.
3M, which is not the only maker of products containing PFAS, uses the chemicals in its Novec aircraft cleaner, fluorinert electronic liquid and other fluoropolymer products, according to the Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry—PFAS is also used by the North Face, Timberland and Dupont, while retailers including LL Bean and REI sell merchandise containing it.
3M did not immediately respond to a Forbes inquiry on whether it would discontinue those products, though it maintains its products are “safe and effective” when used properly.
The company estimates its discontinuation of PFAS will result in a $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion financial hit, though it would only represent a “small portion” of its revenue.
Although PFAS has been largely phased out of manufacturing since the mid-2000s, they can still be found in especially high concentrations near landfills, manufacturing plants and airports, where a firefighting foam containing high levels of PFAS is commonly used in training exercises. Manufacturer Dupont was one of the first to face public scrutiny after residents in West Virginia claimed the company poisoned the drinking water by discharging chemicals into local waterways. One plaintiff was awarded $1.6 million in October, although DuPont plans to appeal the decision. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a $1 billion grant program for states to combat PFAS and “other emerging contaminants” in drinking water, particularly in “small or disadvantaged” communities. The EPA in June also issued drinking water advisories for two of the most common PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS), and strengthened its guidelines on the chemicals. The agency considers the safe level of PFOA in drinking water to be no higher than 0.004 parts per trillion—significantly stricter than its previous guideline of 70 parts per trillion (the safe level of PFOS is slightly higher, at 0.02 parts per trillion).
In August, however, researchers at Northwestern University laid out a potential new method of destroying the pervasive chemicals by heating them with solvents at low temperatures and combining them with sodium hydroxide—an inexpensive chemical found in soap. It’s the latest potential tool to address PFAS. In May, researchers at the University of California, Riverside, found an iodide treatment paired with ultraviolet light and sulfite can destroy up to 90% of the harmful atoms found in PFAS.
3M has also faced backlash for its manufacturing of earplugs used by the US military, which allegedly failed to protect troops’ hearing. In July, the company announced plans to commit $1 billion to resolve 235,000 lawsuits from US veterans who claimed the earplugs failed them when used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company also had its subsidiary that made the earplugs to file for bankruptcy—although the company argued the earplugs were “effective and safe” when used properly.
Scientists Building Up Arsenal To Destroy PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ (Forbes)
3M will stop making hazardous ‘forever chemicals’ starting in 2025 (CNN)