WASHINGTON — The Environmental Working Group on Wednesday released 20 documents it says are from 3M as part of a timeline that the activist organization says shows the company knew about and hid the dangers of PFAS, a family of chemicals now at the center of a national pollution controversy.
Among other things, the documents and timeline released by EWG suggest that 3M was aware for decades that PFAS built up in the bodies of humans exposed to them.
A 1963 study included in the report rated company “fluorochemical surfactants” “mildly toxic” or “slightly toxic” and warned: “Due care should be exercised in handling these materials until further information is available on their physiological properties.”
3M had no immediate comment on the report, which contains what the EWG says is company data and memos dating from 1950. The company has denied human health risks in response to public and private lawsuits, though it has collectively paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settled several legal actions without admitting guilt. The company also has said it discontinued use of the most toxic PFAS more than a decade ago and that newly developed substitute PFAS are safe.
For more than half a century, manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont have used per- and polyfluoroakyl substances — or PFAS — to waterproof shoes, stainproof clothes and carpets, make nonstick cookware and as an active ingredient in military firefighting foams. PFAS are now present in water systems, groundwater and soil at roughly 700 sites in 49 states.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has linked PFAS to human health problems including cholesterol buildup and autoimmune problems. Animal tests also suggest links to liver disease and cancer.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to include new stringent PFAS restrictions in a defense funding bill. The Senate already has passed its own defense bill with PFAS restrictions.
The Environmental Working Group release comes ahead of scheduled testimony by 3M executives at a Sept. 10 hearing on PFAS by the environment panel of the House Oversight Committee.
“The long history of corporate deception is important,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “Most legislators are just learning about it.”
In addition to pollution suits, 3M now faces class-action suits by stockholders seeking damages for drops in share prices because of the company’s mishandling of PFAS problems.
More potentially bad news for the Minnesota-based corporation comes in a new peer-reviewed article in Chemical Engineering Journal. In the article, Auburn University researchers determined that new alternative PFAS — so-called “short-chain” versions — “are more persistent and mobile” than older versions that have been deemed toxic.
Among other things, the article said the review “reveals an urgent need for developing more cost-effective treatment technologies for short-chain PFAS in drinking water.”