3M, a multinational conglomerate that is well known for its Post-It Notes and N95 masks, may have to spend up to $2.3 billion to end its production of “forever chemicals.” In addition to cancer, immune system damage, and developmental issues, these chemicals, known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been linked to a variety of health problems.
Many products contain PFAS, including nonstick cookware, firefighting foam, and stain-resistant fabrics. As a result of their inability to decompose in the environment, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals”.
Over the past few years, PFAS have been gaining attention for their potential health effects and environmental impacts. Several states have banned PFAS in certain products, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency has warned against drinking water containing PFAS for a lifetime.
3M announced in response to these concerns that it would cease production of PFAS by 2022. Depending on the final cost of implementing necessary technologies and processes, this transition is estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2.3 billion.
PFAS contamination from 3M’s manufacturing operations has led to legal challenges in the past, including a $7.5 million settlement with the state of Minnesota in 2010.
Even though 3M has decided to phase out the production of PFAS, it is important to note that many other companies have used these chemicals. The challenge of addressing PFAS’s environmental and health impacts will likely require a broader, industry-wide approach.