Updated: 3:10 p.m.
Maplewood-based 3M says it will stop manufacturing PFAS, known as forever chemicals, by the end of 2025.
In a news release Tuesday morning, the company said it will stop manufacturing that class of human-made chemicals — and work to stop using them in other products. 3M cited what it called “accelerating regulatory trends” regarding PFAS as one reason for the change.
“This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for," 3M chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in the release.
Roman said 3M still believes PFAS “can be safely made and used,” but said ending production of the chemicals positions the company “for continued sustainable growth by optimizing our portfolio, innovating for our customers, and delivering long-term value for our shareholders.”
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“With these two actions, 3M is committing to innovate toward a world less dependent upon PFAS,” the company said in Tuesday’s announcement.
PFAS is a large class of synthetic chemicals known for their ability to repel water, grease and oil. They have been used in a variety of products, including nonstick cookware, carpet, clothing and some firefighting foams.
PFAS are extremely durable, which makes them useful. But they also don’t break down in the environment. They've been found in drinking water, soil, and the blood of humans and wildlife around the globe.
Two decades ago, 3M stopped making two PFAS chemicals that are linked to health issues, including cancer. But it has continued to make other PFAS with shorter carbon chains. The company said they are less toxic, but researchers and regulators have raised concerns about their health and environmental risks.
"I think they do see the writing on the wall, and even these shorter chain ones are going to be regulated,” said Matt Simcik, an environmental chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. “And most likely, there's going to be some liability associated with the production of them.”
The company has faced several lawsuits involving the chemicals, including an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota in 2018 over groundwater contamination in the eastern Twin Cities metro.
Environmental groups greeted the announcement with some optimism, but also skepticism. Jay Eidsness, a staff attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, called it “definitely a step in the right direction.”
“We are encouraged that at least the company is making some outward facing steps to reduce this the spread of these serious chemicals in our environment and in our bodies across the world,” he said.
Eidsness said 3M’s hand is being forced by state and federal governments around the world, which are tightening regulations to reduce or eliminate the use of PFAS.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has signaled that it will tighten regulations of PFAS in drinking water, and list some PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said in a release that 3M should not be trusted to uphold its new commitment.
“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.
3M spokesperson Brian Henry said the company will continue addressing PFAS contamination where it's responsible, and resolving litigation either by defending itself in court or by negotiating settlements.
“We're committed to doing all three of those things — to remediate, to resolve and reduce — and we're going to live up to our commitments,” he said.