Last December 3M announced in a press release the end of PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025. The company cited multiple factors in its decision, including “Liabilities related to certain fluorochemicals, including lawsuits concerning various PFAS-related products and chemistries, and claims and governmental regulatory proceedings and inquiries related to PFAS in a variety of jurisdictions; legal proceedings, including significant developments that could occur in the legal and regulatory proceedings described in the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2021…”
Will this decision have us clearing the shelves of Scotchgard and other water-repellent products that contain PFAS, similar to the toilet paper shortage during the coronavirus pandemic? Scotchgard, a spray that protects clothing, fabrics, upholstery and carpets from stains and other damage, represented about $300 million a year in sales, or about 2 percent of the company's $16 billion in annual revenues, The New York Times reported back in 2000. However, numerous Scotchgard products are still readily available for purchase.
Ironically, 3M says on its U.S. website, “Looking to protect the things you need to last? View products, tips, and tricks at the Scotchgard™ Brand site.” Correct, by using products that contain “forever chemicals”, the things you need to last will likely outlive you.
Twenty-three years ago, William E. Coyne, the head of research and development at 3M, told the NYT that ''These products have been safely used for 40 years and they continue to be safe, but the best decision we can make now is to stop adding to the environment. This is a corporate responsibility issue. This product does not decompose, it's inert -- it's persistent; it's like a rock.'' Further, 3M said that most Scotchgard products, primarily fabric and upholstery protectors, would be phased out by the end of the year.
3M said it discovered in 1998 that the PFAS, used to make many Scotchgard products, was “pervasive… it persisted for years in the environment, and could even be found in human blood, at very low levels.” But no worries. Coyne said, unless you are exposed to “extremely high doses you are going to see effects,” because “they ran exhaustive tests on animals and humans and found no adverse health effects.”
3M spokespersons have mixed messages. Rather than “things that last” like Scotchgard, Mary Auvin, a 3M spokeswoman, told the NYT that ''We don't want things around that last for a long time.''
Where can you buy Scotchgard? Giant retailer Lowe’s said in 2021 that it banned the sale of fabric protectors containing toxic PFAS chemicals in its stores. Its commitment came after 3M stopped selling Scotchgard branded aerosol cans with PFAS as of June 2020. But Toxic-FreeFuture stated that 3M has reformulated its Scotchgard consumer products while at the same time the company continues to argue that PFAS chemicals are safe. As well, 3M announced no such reformulation of its commercial fabric protectors.
The State of California in a 2019 report wrote:
“Carpets, rugs, upholstery, clothing, shoes, and other consumer products to which treatments containing PFASs have been applied become major sources of exposure for infants and children via direct contact and incidental indoor dust ingestion. Young children have been shown to ingest more soil and dust than adults, due to greater hand-to-mouth transfer; this can result in higher exposure to PFASs found in these contaminated environmental media.”
The state “determined that PFAS-containing textile treatments used by consumers to make fabrics waterproof or dirt-proof pose a danger to public health and is working to issue final regulations that would restrict their use. As part of this effort, the state is mandated to recommend safer alternatives to the public and manufacturers.”
California announced in November 2022 a lawsuit alleging that 3M, along with DuPont and other PFAS producers, have caused far-reaching damage to public health and the environment by dealing in products laced with “forever chemicals.” The lawsuit is similar to a dozen others filed in states across the country. While the lawsuits are mounting, 3M’s awareness of their production problem has been festering for decades.
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Will 3M follow through with its commitment? Judging from its track record, only time will tell, in 2025.