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3M to eliminate production of harmful chemical PFAS by 2025

Forever chemicals: The threat of PFAS in our water
Forever chemicals: The threat of PFAS in our water 11:21

3M will phase out the manufacturing of so-called "forever chemicals" and try to get them out of all its products within two years, the chemical and consumer products maker said Tuesday.

The decision arrives after U.S. environmental regulators designated the chemicals — used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, cosmetics and countless other consumer products since the 1940s — as hazardous substances under the Superfund law.

While the designation is not an outright ban, polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, require a report to federal, state or tribal officials if the amount released into soil or water exceeds a certain level. The Environmental Protection Agency could then require cleanups to protect public health and recover cleanup costs.

PFAS have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers but are still in limited use and remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time.

3M makes a broad range of consumer products — including Post-it notes, Scotch Brite cleaning supplies, adhesives and personal protective equipment. The company said its decision was based on multiple factors, including "accelerating regulatory trends focused on reducing or eliminating the presence" of the chemicals in the environment.

"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," CEO Mike Roman said in a statement.

The chemicals can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time, and evidence from animal and human studies indicate that exposure to PFAS may lead to cancer or other health problems, including damage to organs including the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland.

An EPA study from 2016 found a link between human exposure to the chemicals and high cholesterol, increased liver enzymes, decreased vaccination response, thyroid disorders, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia.

Destroying "forever chemicals" in firefighting foam 01:57

3M, based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said it will exit all PFAS manufacturing and "work to discontinue use of PFAS" in all its products by the end of 2025. The company didn't specify how it will eliminate the chemicals, but noted that it has already discontinued PFAS in some products "over the past three years through ongoing research and development."

Environmental groups praised 3M's decision Tuesday, saying the move will lead to cleaner water in the future. 

"For the sake of our health and our environment, we hope 3M will phase out PFAS production before 2025 and that other companies will follow suit," John Rumpler, the senior clean water director for Environment America, said in a statement.

Chemical and other industrial companies have been sued frequently in recent years for downplaying the dangers of the chemicals.

In a November lawsuit, the state of California accused 3M, Dupont and 16 smaller companies of covering up the harm caused to the environment and the public from chemicals manufactured by the firms that have over decades found their way into waterways and human bloodstreams. In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $850 million to settle a lawsuit from the state of Minnesota alleging the company polluted drinking water and resouces in the Twin Cities area.

Last year, the Biden administration launched a broad strategy to regulate the toxic industrial compounds that the EPA said are increasingly turning up in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food.

The Defense Department, Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department were all tapped to join the effort intended to restrict PFAS from being released into the environment and accelerate cleanup.

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