It’s a bittersweet victory for health advocates. 3M, the manufacturing giant responsible for a sizeable share of the world’s PFAS contamination, has agreed to cease producing and distributing at least some of the 4,000 known types of PFAS and PFOAS.
Ducking the Consequences
Despite official comments from the company touting its commitment to global health, 3M’s move is likely caused by dozens of lawsuits brought by states and individuals affected by PFAS exposure. One report estimated the total long-term financial liabilities from the suits would cost 3M at least $30 billion. That’s a hefty price tag for a firm currently reporting $1.3 billion in annual sales.
3M did not lay out a plan for eliminating PFAS from its products, nor did it admit wrongdoing. The CEO, Mike Roman, noted that “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.” In plain language, external pressures from the EPA and pressure from investors forced 3M’s hand.
The company pledged to phase out all PFAS products by 2025. The news release from 3M didn’t explain why it had waited so long to make the change or the two-year delay in addressing a problem it has phased harsh criticism and legal action for since at least 2000.
Acting sooner could have lowered the risk associated with lifelong exposure to PFAS and PFOAS. The ‘forever chemicals’ are present in 97% of Americans. These chemicals have been linked to several types of cancer, high blood pressure, immune disease and other illnesses.
Related: Cape Fear PFAS Study Finds Chemical in Nearly Every Participant
3M’s Other Notable Litigation
The 3M announcement came just days before a Florida judge found the company to be acting in ‘bad faith’ in a separate lawsuit. 3M is facing more than 200,000 claims from military veterans that 3M produced earplugs were “knowingly defective”.
The case is the largest multi-district litigation in US history. The suit alleges that 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs to the US military, resulting in hundreds of thousands of veterans with permanent hearing damage.
3M has been buying, folding and spinning off brands for decades to avoid this type of litigation. The earplug manufacturer, Aearo, was purchased in 2008 and later folded into 3M. Aearo produced earplugs for the US military for years, with its Combat Arms CAEv2 standard issue for soldiers and sailors around the world.
In July 2022, 3M put Aearo into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, obfuscating its finances and other records in the process. Aearo litigators requested its filing be extended to 3M, a motion denied by the courts. Chapter 11 filings are often used to shield companies from the financial consequences of litigation.
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