3M remains committed to furthering scientific research of these compounds and sharing such information with regulators, scientists and community stakeholders. 3M has contributed significantly to the body of knowledge on some PFAS compounds. Our scientists and researchers are some of the most widely published experts in the field, and they are often sought out to lead panels or present at international conferences relating to these compounds. In addition to funding studies at leading global research institutions, 3M has conducted and published more than 150 of its own studies over the past several decades.
The weight of scientific evidence from decades of research does not show that PFOS or PFOA causes harm in people at current or past levels. Many of these studies involved the monitoring and evaluation of our employees who were exposed to substantially higher levels of these materials than the general population. The health and well-being of our workers is a top priority and we continue to have programs in place to monitor the health of our PFAS production employees and retirees. Decades of research into the health of these workers has not identified negative health outcomes caused by exposure to PFOA or PFOS (Raleigh et al., 2014, and Olsen et al., 2007).
For example, the PFAS Expert Health Panel formed by the Australian government determined in its March 2018 report that, “there is mostly limited or no evidence for any link with human disease” and “there is no current evidence that supports a large impact on an individual’s health.” They also report that “there is no current evidence that suggests an increase in overall cancer risk.”
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), in its 2018 draft report on PFAS, said, “The available human studies have identified some potential targets of toxicity; however, cause and effect relationships have not been established for any of the effects, and the effects have not been consistently found in all studies.”
The Michigan Science Advisory Panel said that “[C]ausality between a PFAS-chemical and a specific health outcome in humans has not been established in the current scientific literature.”
It is important to know that while some studies may find links or associations with possible health outcomes, this is not the same as causation. The weight of scientific evidence does not show that PFOS or PFOA causes harm to people at current or historical levels.
Although PFAS have been detected in the environment at extremely low levels, their mere presence does not mean they are harmful. Research has also shown that the levels of PFOS and PFOA in the general population have dropped by more than 70 percent since 2000.
The levels of PFOA and PFOS in people are declining. Reduced exposure to these materials is evidenced in a series of studies that have occurred over the past 15 years involving the measurement of these compounds in the blood of the U.S. general population.
Although it has been widely reported that no causal connection has been identified between exposure to PFOS or PFOA and harm to people’s health, there is a great deal of misinformation in the public domain.
Over the years, some researchers and media reports have cited the results of animal studies as supposed “proof” that PFAS could be harmful to people. Such reports often fail to mention that typical test species, such as rodents, were exposed to extremely high doses of the PFAS material in order to achieve an effect, if any.
In fact, the very purpose of such animal studies is to escalate the administered dosage of the PFAS tested under controlled laboratory conditions until a biological response is observed. Because of this, the levels of exposure that the test specimens received were often tens of thousands of times greater than levels typically found in the environment. Additionally, animal studies are recognized to have significant limitations as a basis for extrapolation of results to people. These animal studies do not demonstrate that exposure to PFAS, such as PFOS and PFOA, at levels found in the general population could cause harm to human health.
Another frequently misunderstood body of information are the findings of what is known as the “C-8 Science Panel.” Private parties created the 3-member C-8 Science Panel to facilitate the settlement of litigation between a group of Ohio River Valley residents in West Virginia and another chemical manufacturer. Its purpose was to assess whether there was a “probable link” between PFOA exposure and human disease.
Overall, the Panel’s findings support 3M’s view that PFOA does not cause illness in people. After examining 55 diseases, including 21 types of cancers (Steenland et al., 2014), the C-8 Science Panel found no “probable links” between exposure to PFOA and nearly all of them. It found no links between PFOA and a number of health conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, asthma and learning disorders, among others. For six disease categories, the Panel concluded there was a “probable link” between PFOA exposure and diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Many media and other reports about PFAS cite the Panel’s findings that report “probable links” between exposure to PFOA and adverse health effects. It is important to note that a “probable link” is not a “causal link” between exposure and disease. The “probable link” findings are not and should not be mistaken for scientific findings of a cause and effect relationship between PFOA exposure and these six conditions.
Since the Panel’s findings in 2012, more recent studies and reviews have been unable to replicate many of the panel’s six “probable link” findings. This is something which the Panel even noted might happen from further scientific analysis of PFOA exposure (Steenland et al., 2014).