3M will cut harmful PFAS in household goods. What are ‘forever chemicals’?

3M, the conglomerate that manufactures Post-It notes and Scotch tape, said Tuesday it will stop making harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and eliminate their use across its product offerings, by the end of 2025. These additives, commonly known as “forever chemicals,” are found in hundreds of household items and have been around since the 1950s.

PFAS are a class of more than 9,000 toxic chemicals that are used to make a wide variety of products water- and grease-resistant. PFAS are a byproduct in GORE-TEX, for instance, the waterproofing treatment in clothing. GORE-TEX announced late last year its own efforts to reduce PFAS, including its first products using a PFAS-free waterproof membrane. The nonstick pot and pan coating Teflon is another example of PFAS.

But health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have stressed in recent years that these chemicals are much more hazardous to human health than initially thought. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to PFAS, even in small amounts over time, has been linked to serious health effects including cancer, reduced vaccine response and childhood developmental delays.

The 3M
 news is only the latest in redoubled scrutiny of “forever chemicals.” Earlier this year, the United Nations dedicated its annual World Water Day to forever chemicals and their penetration of vital groundwater. The bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 also set aside money for cleaning up “forever chemicals” in the nation’s drinking water.

According to the CDC and EPA, many PFAS pose a concern because they do not break down naturally. Over many years, they can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources, including the groundwater that much of the world is exposed to and regularly uses for drinking, cooking and washing. PFAs build up in fish as well as land animals and plants, many eventually consumed.

By definition, groundwater is the water beneath Earth’s surface in rock and soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. About 30% of all readily available fresh water in the world is groundwater, supporting drinking supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and natural ecosystems. Groundwater will play a critical role in adapting to climate change as rising temperatures put ever-greater strain on water needs, the U.N. says.

For World Water Day, MarketWatch interviewed Peter Klein, chief investment officer and founder of ALINE Wealth, with a dedicated focus on water investing. You can read the full interview here.

Klein dedicated part of the conversation to PFAS, the heightened attention from the private and public sectors to remediate and prevent future harm, and how consumers and investors might do more.

Klein was optimistic that government spending will spur more action in the private sector, especially, he says, as “U.S. groundwater had been subjected to emerging contaminants with little to no EPA action for 30 years.”

In the infrastructure law, spending is earmarked for reverse osmosis and filtering, and money to back an EPA mandate against companies creating such contaminants. Within the spending legislation, water and wastewater got the most money right after transportation. In fact, $10 billion in funding is marked to specifically address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in water. Here’s the Biden administration’s spending plan for the EPA on “forever chemicals.

“It’s a positive for society and health,” said Klein. “And a big benefit for companies in this space. I mean, John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ has dealt with it, so there you go.”

Klein’s compliance rules don’t allow him to name specific stock holdings under ALINE’s management. But some companies that work with reverse osmosis technology and filtering include Energy Recovery Inc.
  Consolidated Water Co.
  and LiqTech International

Earlier this year, California’s attorney general announced the state was suing 3M, DuPont
and several other companies to recoup what the AG deemed “staggering” clean-up costs from toxic pollutants known as “forever chemicals.” DuPont said in response that it is not in the PFAS business and was wrongly lumped in.

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against chemical companies in the last two decades charging health and environmental damage from PFAS, potentially leading to billions of dollars in liabilities.

“3M’s decision to stop making and using forever chemicals is great news for clean water — from our rivers and streams to the water we draw from our kitchen sinks,” said John Rumpler, senior clean water director for advocacy group Environment America.

“3M’s decision reflects the scientific evidence on the harm of these chemicals, as well as the courageous efforts of community groups, attorneys general and advocates to hold polluters accountable,” he added. “For the sake of our health and our environment, we hope 3M will phase out PFAS production before 2025 and that other companies will follow suit.”

For its part, 3M, which earlier expressed its concerns for “onerous regulation” on this front, sees the migration away from the products as part of its bigger push to be more sustainable.

“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 statement.

#cut #harmful #PFAS #household #goods #chemicals

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