GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — 3M, one of the largest PFAS manufacturers in the world, has announced it will stop producing and selling products containing the chemical compounds by the end of 2025.
In a statement, 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman called it a decision to protect the environment and get ahead of regulatory trends.
“This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for,” Roman said in a release. “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. 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 says it averages approximately $1.3 billion annually in net revenue from manufactured PFAS products.
PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is a giant group of chemical compounds. They were first developed by DuPont in the 1940s and incorporated into thousands of products in the years that followed, including non-stick pans, nail polish, eye makeup and dental floss. Years later, it was discovered that the chemical compounds do not break down naturally and can build up in the human body, causing several health issues, including cancer.
According to documents released by the Environmental Working Group, researchers at 3M and DuPont found evidence that PFAS was harmful as early as the 1950s, including evidence that PFAS builds up in a person’s bloodstream. But that information was mostly kept private, and the development and use of the chemicals has continued for decades.
Scott Faber, the senior vice president of government affairs at the EWG, called 3M’s announcement “too late.”
“After telling everyone — their neighbors, their workers, and their regulators — that PFAS are safe while poisoning the entire planet, 3M is now pledging to slink out the back door with no accountability,” Faber said in a statement. “Congress and the courts cannot allow this to happen, and no one should trust 3M’s commitment to do the right thing. They never have before.”
Despite the warnings, products with PFAS are still made and sold, and older PFAS products still cause pollution across the world.
An EWG study published earlier this year found that an estimated 2 to 20 million acres of farmland in the U.S. are contaminated with PFAS, which is passed along into food. Another study found that as of 2022, PFAS is still found in several popular kids’ products, including clothes, bedding and other household furnishings.
West Michigan has had its own run-ins with PFAS pollution. Wolverine Worldwide’s disposal of material contaminated with Scotchgard at the House Street Dump allowed PFAS to seep into the local water supply in northern Kent County. And runoff from a PFAS-infused firefighting foam at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport tainted wells in Cascade Township.
Some sources of PFAS pollution are still unknown. Investigators in Grand Haven don’t know what left PFAS on Harbor Island — a site that was a dump before becoming home to the J.B. Sims Generating Station in the 1960s. The chemicals were found during routine testing in June 2021 and the land is now in remediation.
Despite casting doubt on 3M’s commitment to the environment, Faber considered the announcement a sign that activists are making an impact.
“Everyone who has raised their voice to highlight the damage PFAS has done to people and the planet or used their power to protect people should know this — they are making a difference,” said Faber. “Today’s announcement should embolden everyone who is being polluted without their knowledge and their consent and everyone with the power to do something about it.”