said it would stop making so-called forever chemicals and cease using them by the end of 2025, as criticism and litigation grow over the chemicals’ alleged health and environmental impact.
3M Chief Executive
said that the decision was influenced by increasing regulation of the chemicals known as PFAS, and a growing market for substitute options.
“Customers are taking note of PFAS regulations. They’re looking for alternatives,” Mr. Roman said in an interview. “We’re finding other solutions that have the same properties,” he said.
The company’s move involves chemicals used to make nonstick cookware, food packaging and other consumer and industrial products. 3M estimated its current annual sales of the chemicals total about $1.3 billion.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are commonly called “forever chemicals” because they take a long time to break down in the environment. Such chemicals include highly durable compounds long prized by manufacturers for their resistance to heat, and their ability to repel water, grease and stains.
In recent decades, research has linked exposure to some forms of the chemicals with health problems including kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The synthetic compounds have also been found in drinking water, including some municipal systems and private wells, as well as in rainwater around the world.
Regulators and environmental groups have taken aim at the chemicals, and thousands of lawsuits alleging contamination and illness have been filed in recent years targeting 3M and other manufacturers.
3M stopped producing some types of PFAS chemicals in the early 2000s but has continued to make other types, which the company has said can be safely produced and used. 3M said Tuesday it would stop making all fluoropolymers, fluorinated fluids and PFAS-based additive products by the end of 2025.
The company also said it would stop using PFAS across its products by the end of 2025, saying that it has already reduced its use of the substances over the past three years.
3M’s shares declined about 0.5% in midday trading, while major U.S. stock indexes slightly increased. The company’s stock has fallen about 29% so far this year, compared with a 19% decline in the S&P 500 stock index.
The EPA has said there are roughly 600 PFAS chemicals in commercial use today. The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical makers, said Tuesday that PFAS are integral to thousands of products in technologies including semiconductors, batteries for electric vehicles and 5G technology.
The group said its members are dedicated to the responsible production, use, management and disposal of PFAS chemistries, and that it would continue to work with the EPA toward policies that protect human health and allow the chemicals to continue to be used.
3M’s exit from PFAS was seen as a victory by environmental groups that for years have raised alarms over the chemicals.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said he didn’t think 3M will ever be held fully accountable for producing the chemicals. “But by exiting the market they have sent a powerful signal to the other polluters that it’s simply unaffordable to poison all of us,” Mr. Faber said.
3M’s net sales of PFAS chemicals represent about 4% of the company’s total annual sales, according to research by RBC Capital Markets. “This is a step in the right direction for 3M given all the regulatory scrutiny of PFAS chemicals,” RBC analysts wrote in a note to investors Tuesday.
Over the course of exiting the business of manufacturing the chemicals, 3M said it expects to incur pretax charges of about $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion, including a $700 million to $1 billion charge in the current quarter. The St. Paul, Minn.-based manufacturer said it intends to fulfill current contractual obligations during the transition period.
The EPA in August proposed designating two forms of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the federal superfund law. The American Chemistry Council and companies such as 3M opposed the move, saying that it wasn’t based on the best available science and that it wouldn’t speed up remediation of contaminated sites.
Industry analysts said plant cleanup costs are likely to increase as the EPA uses broad discretion to impose cleanup terms under the Superfund designation. They said the hazardous substance designation also likely would hinder sales growth for the PFAS chemicals that 3M continues to produce, as customers look for alternatives.
3M pioneered the development of PFAS chemicals in the late 1940s, building on atomic research that used fluorine gas. By bonding fluorine with carbon, 3M found it could create durable compounds that could be adapted for use in consumer and industrial products.
3M’s plants where PFAS chemicals are produced have come under increasing regulatory focus for soil and water contamination. 3M has committed billions of dollars to clean up plant sites in recent years, including an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota related to a plant in Cottage Grove, Minn. The company also agreed earlier this year to provide about $600 million to remediate contamination connected to a plant in Belgium where PFAS chemicals have been produced.
3M also produces PFAS chemicals at plants in Alabama, Illinois and Germany.
3M phased out production of two PFAS chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, in the early 2000s. Those two forms of PFAS chemicals have been at the center of thousands of lawsuits targeting 3M and other manufacturers.
—Will Feuer contributed to this article.
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