Manufacturing company 3M announced on Tuesday its intentions to cease manufacturing hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, alongside a vague commitment to “work to discontinue the use of PFAS across its product portfolio” by the end of 2025. The news comes just days after The Chicago Tribune reports that the 3M has potentially dumped untold quantities of PFAS into the Mississippi River since 1975.
PFAS were first developed in the 1940s, with 3M quickly becoming one of both their earliest producers and users. Since then, over 9,000 variations of the appropriately monikered “forever chemicals” have become ubiquitous as non-stick and water resistant coatings across the furniture, food packaging, apparel, and cosmetics industries, just to name a few.
[Related: How to stay away from PFAS.]
But that convenience has come at a steep and sometimes deadly cost to the planet and human health. Countless studies link PFAs to various cancers, health issues, animal harm, and environmental degradation, given their inability to naturally biodegrade over time. Numerous vital water sources are shown to be contaminated with the chemicals. The bodies of over 97 percent of Americans are estimated to contain PFAS, and researchers have even found them in breast milk.
After decades of mounting research highlighting the controversies and issues surrounding PFAS, some companies are finally reaching a point where the financial costs outweigh the potential profits. As Gizmodo notes, manufacturers like 3M are facing thousands of lawsuits and regulatory investigations pertaining to PFAS fallout, costing them billions of dollars. In 2018, for example, 3M alone agreed to an $850 million class action settlement with the state of Minnesota following 8 years of legal battles. The company’s announcement, therefore, can be seen as an accounting decision more than an ethical one, critics argue.
Although the company plans to exit the PFAS manufacturing market sound positive enough, their statement only says that they will “work to discontinue the use of PFAS across its product portfolio.” Environmental promises that don’t set hard targets often end up falling short, or “greenwash” a company’s image.
“3M is committing to innovate toward a world less dependent upon PFAS,” reads the company’s press release, before immediately following with the declaration that all its products “are safe for their intended uses.”