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3M Offers Researchers New Resources to Improve PFAS Testing (3)

March 19, 2020, 2:01 PMUpdated: March 19, 2020, 9:03 PM

3M Co. is publicizing its studies on PFAS chemicals in the hopes that researchers, who are using varying methods to test for the chemicals, will rely on the company’s standards and resources.

The company’s new research clearinghouse, announced Thursday, includes selected studies on PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, that 3M itself conducted. The company sad it’s also making samples of PFAS mixtures available to institutions and researchers to help calibrate their analytical equipment.

Most of the studies are years or decades old, and the clearinghouse is missing information on the historic and current production of PFAS, as well as the best ways to remediate it, said Zhanyun Wang, a lecturer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology known as ETH Zurich. That type of information would be “very useful” for researchers, Wang said.

“We continue to consider further 3M studies to add to this site and will continuously update it,” 3M spokesman Sean Lynch said.

Mindi Messmer, a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said the clearinghouse’s information is “not useful at all” because it’s “heavily skewed.”

“I think they could be providing a more in-depth, more thorough characterization of the available science if they were really concerned about presenting the factual information,” said Messmer, who is an environmental and public health scientist as well as an environmental health advocate.

3M has manufactured PFAS chemicals for decades. 3M and DuPont were the original companies developing and producing PFAS. Their products have been used by hundreds of companies, such as Wolverine World Wide Inc. and W. L. Gore & Associates Inc., to make thousands of other products.

As technology improved to the point where environmental tests could detect small concentrations—measured at parts per trillion—communities and regulators have had increasing concerns about how frequently PFAS chemicals have appeared in drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a standardized method for testing the chemicals in drinking water, but labs are modifying the tests to detect other materials, like landfill leachate.

PFAS may cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.

Facing Pressure

Last September, the day before the company’s senior vice president of corporate affairs testified before a House committee on PFAS issues, 3M announced a set of new initiatives as part of its “commitment to sound science.”

Thursday’s announcement of a PFAS information clearinghouse grew out of that pledge to share best practices for testing, measuring, and cleaning up PFAS chemicals.

In its Thursday announcement, 3M highlighted a study of American Red Cross blood donors that showed the amount of PFAS in donated blood has decreased over time. 3M maintains that two specific PFAS are not a public health concern.

“The weight of scientific evidence over decades of research does not show that PFOA or PFOS causes harm in people at current or past levels,” the company’s website says.

On the website, “it appears as if 3M has selected specific statements to support their stance that PFAS are not risks to human health and left out important context,” said Jamie DeWitt, whose lab at East Carolina University is slated to receive EPA funding for PFAS toxicity research.

Though the Michigan PFAS Science Advisory Panel, for example, pointed out that PFAS haven’t been found to cause specific health effects in people, the panel found enough evidence to justify regulating the chemicals to manage public exposure, DeWitt said.

PFAS chemicals have been used for decades to make nonstick and stain-resistant coatings in clothing, fast-food wrappers, carpets, and other consumer and industrial products, including 3M’s Scotchgard.

3M has been involved in multiple lawsuits regarding drinking water contaminated with PFAS, including a 2018 settlement with the state of Minnesota totaling $850 million. 3M also contributed $55 million to Wolverine World Wide’s cleanup of PFAS chemicals in Michigan in February.

“3M acted responsibly with our products containing PFAS, and we will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship,” the company’s website says.

3M and DuPont are both members of the American Chemistry Council, which represents some companies that use or once made PFAS. The Council said it would review 3M’s clearinghouse for information and appreciates the company’s efforts to “add to the scientific discussion” of PFAS.

(Updates with details about clearinghouse studies in first and second paragraphs and comments from Mindi Messmer in fifth and sixth paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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