Read the full article by Annie Ropeik (The Maine Monitor)
“It’s been about 20 years since Minnesota, where the chemical giant 3M is based, first began investigating drinking water contamination around a 3M factory that made the class of chemicals known as PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. Around the same time, a lawyer named Rob Bilott was looking into similar pollution from a DuPont factory in West Virginia that was causing the gruesome deaths of nearby cows.
This was the beginning of the public consciousness around what we now call “forever chemicals.” In the wake of these investigations, 3M and DuPont pledged to stop making PFOA and PFOS, which are only two out of thousands of different types of PFAS. Minnesota settled with 3M for $850 million, and DuPont spun off its PFAS business into the company now called Chemours.
Since then, PFAS hotspots have arisen like a game of whack-a-mole in states including Maine, where the chemicals have tainted sludge fertilizer that the state long encouraged for use on farms, and seeped into waterways from military firefighting foam use. Marina Schauffler reported on topics like these in-depth in The Maine Monitor’s recent series ‘Invisible and Indestructible.‘ Regulators in places like New England have said that PFAS issues identified so far are only the tip of the iceberg for what’s to come.
3M and DuPont, along with companies that bought PFAS from them, now face scores of lawsuits — from states, towns, fire departments and individuals — accusing them of marketing the chemicals for use in all manner of other household and industrial products, all while knowing the risks. The chemicals persist for decades in the environment and are linked to a range of deadly human health problems. Reporting by The Intercept has shown the 3M knew this and sought to bury it, using a similar playbook to that of Exxon in regards to climate change. Now, state and federal regulation of PFAS is finally on the rise, years after Rob Bilott first began calling for these reforms.
It was likely with this massive legal liability in mind that 3M announced this week it will stop making and using PFAS altogether by 2025. ‘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,’ said 3M CEO Mike Roman in a press release.
It’s a splashy headline, but what does it really mean? In many ways, the PFAS cat is out of the bag — in Maine and worldwide, the chemicals have been shown to be in drinking water, wastewater, rivers, our bodies, breast milk, crops, soil, compost, food packaging, pets, wildlife. Removing and destroying PFAS is an evolving challenge, and towns, states and water utilities are struggling to figure out how to fund testing and treatment. After 3M’s announcement, some called for the company to go much further in helping fund this effort.” …