So long to forever chemicals

3M will stop making and using “forever chemicals” by the end of 2025, amid growing concern from governments and the public that the substances can cause serious health problems.

Why it matters: 3M is one of the biggest producers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAS), so their decision is a significant step towards phasing out an entire class of chemicals used in everything from cosmetics, to cookware, to firefighting materials. 

  • 3M helped invent PFAS as part of WWII-era military research, and they quickly became popular because of their durability and non-stick, water-repellent quality.

Since PFAS break down very slowly in the environment, they can accumulate in water, wildlife, and people—exposure to them in high levels has been linked to cancer, cholesterol problems, developmental issues in children, and decreased fertility.

Why it’s happening: The company said its decision to phase out PFAS was driven partly by looming EU restrictions and increasing regulatory scrutiny in both the US and Canada.

  • 3M is also facing legal liability (as much as US$30 billion, by one estimate) stemming from lawsuits over health impacts and cleanup costs associated with PFAS.

Zoom out: Other makers and users of PFAS, like DuPont and Chemours, will now face more pressure to follow 3M and ditch the chemicals.