If 3M Really Cares About the PFAS Science, Here’s How They Should Move Forward

May 20, 2019 | 2:42 pm
US Navy
Genna Reed
Former Director of Policy Analysis

Well, well, well, 3M. I’m glad to hear you are concerned about the science of PFAS, but let’s put some walk to that talk.

Let me explain. As I was googling several different PFAS-related search terms last week, I kept seeing this targeted ad at the top of the list titled “3M | Believe Science, not opinion: We proactively minimized PFAS impact, investing $50 million in carbon filtration systems.” When I clicked on it, it brought me to an ad on the Washington Post website titled “Why We Support Regulation of PFAS. Here’s How to Move Forward” written by the Senior Vice President of Research and Development and CTO of 3M, John Banovetz, that reads like an opinion piece (but presumably without the rigorous review required to get on the actual op-ed pages of the Post) and uses strong messaging of supporting science and “thoughtful” regulation.

Well, 3M, I know you think that your company has pulled out all the stops by spending a grand total of $100 million in testing water sources and $50 million in installing carbon filtration systems, but no one is impressed. Not only is it pocket change for a company with $33 billion in sales in 2018, but it doesn’t even come close to covering the past, current, and future health costs of the toxic chemical burden imposed on millions of bodies thanks in part to your company. Clearly you’ve noticed the magnitude of this issue, since your 2018 financial statement spends over six pages listing the many lawsuits involving your company related to PFAS.

Since you don’t seem to have a grasp on what being a responsible company looks like, I have created this handy roadmap for you to follow as you think about how you can help inspire confidence in drinking water. Here’s how 3M needs to move forward:

1. Stop lying about the science (and everything else)

We already know you covered up the science on the impacts of PFOA and PFOS decades ago, so why not just admit what you have long known—that PFOA and PFOS are hazardous and linked to a range of health problems and data on replacement PFAS are pointing to similar impacts. You can post ads in every newspaper in the country that assert your interest in science and science-based policies, but you won’t gain any trust until you start being honest about the mess you’ve made and start contributing to solutions that aren’t just band-aids. You can also start helping contribute to knowledge about the scope and magnitude of the PFAS contamination issue by endorsing legislation like the PFAS Detection Act, which would charge USGS with conducting nationwide sampling of PFAS in waterways, wells, and soil.

2. Clean up your mess

Once you start leveling with the public about your role in this public health emergency, you can support proactive legislative solutions instead of lobbying against them, pledge to swiftly and thoroughly clean up already contaminated superfund sites, and work with scientists across the country to figure out how best to remediate these sites and safely dispose of PFAS contamination. A good start would be to endorse the PFAS Action Act which would designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This would help feed into the PFAS Right To Know Act which would require the agency to list PFAS under the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory which would let communities know how much PFAS are released by nearby facilities. Giving communities information on where and how much PFAS are being released and then creating a trigger for cleanup of sites contaminated with PFAS would get the ball rolling on protecting our water.

3. Pay for the damage done

As you’re navigating cleaning up the sites that are clearly your responsibility, you’ll pay what you owe instead of shifting the burden onto small communities that are currently paying for their local water utilities to filter their water or connect them to the local water supply for contamination that’s not their fault. You’ll also pay for the technology that water utilities need to test for the variety of PFAS used in your products. You put it into the environment, it’s now your job to figure out how to find it so it can be rooted out. Remember it’s your fault, so you need to fix it. The House has introduced infrastructure legislation, the LIFT America Act, that would jumpstart this process by providing $2.5 billion in grants to PFAS-impacted communities to help clean up their water. What about a dollar-for-dollar match from 3M?

4. Don’t let it happen again

In order to protect public health and the environment and ensure the long-term viability of your company, you need to seek alternatives for the entire class of PFAS. The phase-out of PFOA and PFOS was just a baby step. The body of evidence of chemicals within this class make a strong case for regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals since their toxicological properties are similar. You need to accept this and dedicate research and development resources to developing alternatives while you phase out manufacture and use of short-chain PFBS and whatever’s next in the PFAS pipeline.

A suite of legislative solutions is just the start

According to your Washington Post piece, you support the EPA setting a national standard for PFOA and PFOS but have issues with the pieces of legislation on the table. There are some very important bills out there that will allow EPA to use the science to inform regulatory pathways under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and CERCLA. These bills would not create shortcuts to regulate PFAS without agency officials making decisions based on the best available science. Whether that science is convenient for you is another story.

If you really believe that science should determine PFAS regulation, then we agree and the next steps are very clear. I spent last Wednesday on Capitol Hill with a group of people adversely affected by PFAS. There were stories of disease and death, stories of lives that were altered forever by you and your industry’s negligence with these chemicals. You would be best served to listen to these stories, take them seriously and take action to ensure more people don’t face the same fate.

On Wednesday, May 15th I was fortunate enough to meet this inspiring group of people impacted by PFAS contamination who traveled to DC from across the country to advocate for legislative action on PFAS.

There are people who can’t drink their water, can’t swim in their lakes, can’t fish or hunt on their land, can’t sell their property, can’t pursue their dreams, and can’t say goodnight to their loved ones thanks to the chemicals you unleashed into the environment. You owe it to them to change course.