Global industrial giant 3M has announced plans to stop manufacturing and end its use of the so-called “forever” chemicals by the end of 2025.
The chemicals include per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), such as fluoropolymers, fluorinated fluids, and PFAS-based additives.
The conglomerate is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in PFAS environmental liability and personal injury product lawsuits. According to Bloomberg Law, this won’t necessarily stop the litigation, which could cost 3M over $30 billion. It estimates that since the beginning of 2020, “at least 3 PFAS-related lawsuits a day were filed against the company on average.”
Nevertheless, the decision aligns the company more closely with shifting industry desires, changing stakeholder expectations, and accelerating regulatory pressure, 3M said in its press release.
PFAS represent an entire class of chemicals that have been in production over the past seventy years. They were originally developed as part of World War II atomic bomb research and used in hundreds of company materials and textiles.
Their use extends to medical technologies, semiconductors, batteries, vehicles, airplanes, and phones.
“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 Mike Roman, 3M chairman, and CEO.
Still, many critics point out that the chemicals are nearly impossible to get rid of, and accumulate in water and soil, as well as in human bodies. Other chemical firms also face lawsuits over the production and/or use of PFAS, with a few settlements reached.
3M intends to stop the manufacture of PFAS by 2025 while fulfilling its current contractual obligations toward its customers during the transition period. The company also plans to stop using the “forever” chemicals in its products by then. It’s already reduced its use over the past three years as it’s been conducting research into new solutions.
Currently, 3M derives about $1.3 billion in annual net sales from its production of PFAS. The use of PFAS in its products, however, represents only a small portion of its overall revenue, the company noted.
During this transition, 3M will write off between $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion in pre-tax charges. As much as 80% of this amount would be in non-cash and other asset impairments.
As part of 3M’s drive to reduce its environmental footprint, the company has slashed its Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 72% since 2002. It plans to use 50% renewable electricity by 2025. In addition, it’s also investing $1 billion to improve access to clean air and water, as well as to set new goals to reduce its use of plastics.