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After years of scandals and lawsuits, this mega-corporation will stop making toxic 'forever chemicals'

3M has been one of the leading producers of the chemicals since they were invented in the 1940s.


Photo Credit: iStock

Industrial conglomerate 3M says it is phasing out the use of toxic "forever chemicals" by 2025.

PFAS, which stands for perfluoralkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are dubbed "forever chemicals" because they do not break down easily in our environment, if ever. They can be found at concerning levels in our drinking water, soil, and food. 

PFAS build up in the body and have been linked to serious human health issues, including certain types of cancer, heart problems, and low birth weights. Research has found PFAS in more than 97% of Americans, including in breast milk.

3M has been one of the leading producers of PFAS since they were invented in the 1940s. There are nearly 10,000 types of forever chemicals used in thousands of products, including nonstick cookware, furniture, food packaging, clothing, and cosmetics, among others.

3M made the announcement that it would phase out forever chemicals following reports that it has been illegally dumping PFAS into the Mississippi River for nearly 50 years — putting human health and the environment at risk. 

"This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for," 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman said in a statement last December. "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."

Roman continued, saying, "This action is another example of how we are positioning 3M for continued sustainable growth by optimizing our portfolio, innovating for our customers, and delivering long-term value for our shareholders."

The company has faced a number of lawsuits over PFAS exposure, including an eight-year class action lawsuit that brought an $850 million settlement in Minnesota. California filed a lawsuit against 3M and other manufacturers of PFAS last November for their continued production of the chemicals despite claims the companies knew about the dangers for decades.  

Bloomberg Law reports that 3M faces up to $30 billion in potential lawsuit outcomes over PFAS, which could amount to expenses of more than $1.3 billion annually.

Experts say that while the 2025 target is a victory, they also say there's more that 3M should do. In a letter to the EPA, nearly two dozen public health and environmental organizations urged the agency to ask 3M to provide a full list of products containing PFAS along with production volumes and uses. 

The groups say 3M's withdrawal from PFAS production "should be a signal" to the rest of the industry to phase out forever chemicals. 

"We urge the Environmental Protection Agency to send a strong message that other manufacturers must follow 3M's lead and transition away from PFAS," the group wrote. "[A]nd we urge EPA to prevent continued PFAS pollution by stopping other companies from initiating or increasing production of PFAS that 3M will no longer manufacture."  

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