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Internal Documents Show That 3M Has Been Hiding PFAS Risks for Decades

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on November 07th, 2019

By the 1960s, animal studies conducted by 3M revealed that PFAS chemicals could pose health risks. But 3M kept much of what it knows to itself, not informing the EPA or the public, until the late 1990s, when the agency began taking notice of the rising research outside of 3M showing PFAS's persistence in the environment and the human body.

A History of Deception

1947 - 3M began mass-manufacturing PFOA, one of the best-known members in a family of thousands of fluorochemicals called PFAS

1952 - Scotchgard, the soil-retardant and stain-repellent spray was discovered accidentally by 3M chemists Patsy Sherman and Samuel Smith

In the early 1960s - 3M and the U.S. Navy develop life-saving firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA. Animal and human studies link the chemicals to liver damage

1970s - Although research by 3M finds that the PFAS and PFOS are toxic, military sites, civilian airports, and firefighting training centers start using AFFF worldwide

1975 - 3M is informed that PFAS is accumulating in human blood

1978 - 3M and DuPont become aware that PFAS is accumulating in occupationally exposed workers' blood and body tissues, causing elevated liver enzyme

1981 - 3M releases internal study finding birth defects in rats

1984 - 3M documents rising fluorine levels in workers' blood

1990 - 3M study finds a risk of testicular cancer from exposure to PFOA

From the 1950s to the 2000s the nonstick compounds have been widely used in industrial processes and a host of popular consumer products: Teflon nonstick pots and pans, Gore-Tex water-resistant shoes and clothing, and more exposing people to the toxic chemicals on a daily basis

2000 - 3M announces it will voluntarily cease production of PFOA and PFOS and will stop putting them in products by 2002

2005 - the U.S. EPA concluded that PFOA is likely to be carcinogenic in humans.

Nowadays, a handful of multibillion-dollar chemical companies, including 3M, have been named in dozens of lawsuits from numerous municipalities connected to PFAS contamination in drinking water systems and other natural resources nationwide. The companies already have paid out hundreds of millions in legal settlements since their conspiracies have come to light, as scientific research has linked PFAS to health effects including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and increased risk of thyroid disease.

3M Denies Responsibility for Toxic PFAS

Since the 1970s, a growing body of science has found that there are potential adverse health impacts associated with PFAS exposure, including liver damage, thyroid diseases, decreased fertility, hormone suppression, and cancer.

In his March 28, 1999, resignations letter, Richard Purdy - one of 3M's chief PFAS products said "is the most insidious pollutant since PCB, probably more damaging than PCB because it does not degrade", referring to a compound used in 3M's Scotchgard stain-protection product line, among other uses. "The company was more concerned with markets, legal defensibility and image over environmental safety", said the 3M environmental specialist, accusing company officials of being "unethical".

PFAS can now be found in the blood of nearly 99 percent of Americans. However, 3M responded in a position paper: "Although certain PFAS have been detected in the environment at low levels, their mere presence does not mean they're harmful." Even more, Denise Rutherford, 3M's senior vice president of corporate affairs said in a 10 September House of Representatives oversight hearing: "the weight of scientific evidence has not established that PFOS, PFOA, or other PFAS cause adverse human health effects".

Time for Action

When chemical manufacturers fail to take responsibility for their negligence and put others at risk, they can be held legally responsible to the people they harm. There are people who can't drink their water so holding manufacturers accountable for unleashing these 'forever chemicals' on our environment is just the start. In order to protect public health, and ensure the long-term viability of our environment, we need to seek alternatives for the entire class of PFAS. The body of evidence of chemicals within this class makes a strong case for regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals since their toxicological properties are similar.

PFAS has been known to be toxic for decades, yet the companies continued to use them, hid the dangers, denied the toxicity, and failed to give reasonable warnings about the hazards they posed. The Environmental Litigation Group is here to help if your community suspects PFAS contamination is endangering your water supply. We will carefully review the facts of your case in order to determine who is culpable for your toxic exposure and pursue the compensation to which you are entitled.