Processes to commercially produce PFAS were first developed in the 1940s. In the 1950s, 3M was able to use these processes to begin manufacturing various PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS—two types of PFAS—for product applications. In the 1950s, 3M launched several products based on PFAS, including Scotchgard™.
In the 1960s, the United States Navy used certain PFAS to develop life-saving firefighting foams with support from 3M. Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was created to address life-threatening challenges facing the military in live combat missions and training exercises. To meet these challenges and the need for fast and effective tools to fight complex liquid fuel fires, the military sought to develop a completely new product using the unique properties of PFAS.
The Navy patented the technology and required its vessels carry AFFF to protect the lives of U.S. sailors, airmen and flight officers after 134 sailors died in a fire aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967—one of the worst naval disasters in American history. To this day, the military specification governing AFFF can only be met by the use of PFAS-based surfactants, given their unique and life-saving properties.
3M no longer manufactures or sells AFFF.
At 3M, we think about our environmental and sustainability practices with the same high standard we use to create our next innovative product. That’s because innovation, to us, is a holistic process that involves ongoing examination of our products and their potential impact on the environment. For example, we started our groundbreaking Pollution Prevention Pays (PDF, 12.21 MB) program more than 40 years ago and have since prevented 2.5 million tons of waste going to landfills. In 2018, 3M solutions helped our customers avoid 15 million tons of emissions. Furthermore, in early 2019, we committed to move our entire global operations to renewable energy by 2050, with half our operations using renewable energy by 2025.
As science and technology evolve and advance, so do our manufacturing processes and products. 3M’s research of PFOA and PFOS spans more than 50 years. Throughout the years, we’ve improved our knowledge and our tools to study these and other compounds. In fact, 3M’s research has been instrumental to the development of technology to reliably detect and quantify these compounds and many other PFAS at lower levels than ever before.
Since the 1970s, 3M has led efforts to develop analytical tools to measure increasingly small amounts of PFOA and PFOS compounds in blood and various environmental media. Technological advancements in the late 1990s made it possible for us to detect certain PFAS compounds in unexpected places in the environment and in the general population at levels that were previously undetectable. We were able to detect PFOA and PFOS at the parts per billion (ppb) level (Hansen et al., 2001). To put these levels in perspective, one part-per-billion is equivalent to one second in 30 years or one penny in $10 million.
Enabled by improved analytical capabilities, 3M also sponsored research with scientists who had access to archived environmental samples (i.e., fish, birds, mammals, etc.) and revealed small amounts of certain PFAS in specimens collected throughout the world.
In response to this evolving knowledge and the understanding that these compounds had the potential to build up over time, 3M announced in 2000 that we would voluntarily phase out production of PFOA and PFOS globally as a precautionary measure. We phased out of materials used to produce certain repellants and surfactant products, with most of these activities in the U.S. completed by the end of 2002. Phased out products included Aqueous Film Forming Foam and coatings for food packaging, for example. Throughout this time, and continuing to this day, the Company made the following commitments:
The phaseout was announced long before any of our competitors determined to cease production or use of any PFOS or PFOA compounds and nine years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed its first lifetime health advisory for drinking water concerning either of these compounds. At the time of 3M’s phaseout, the U.S. EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner recognized 3M’s leadership, saying, “3M deserves great credit for identifying this problem and coming forward voluntarily.”
Today, PFAS compounds are manufactured by various companies, including 3M, and are used in everyday products. As part of 3M’s philosophy and policy to continually improve its products and minimize their impact on the environment, the materials used by 3M have been tested and assessed to assure their safety for intended uses. In addition to providing this data to regulatory agencies, much of this data is publicly available.
PFAS stands for a broad group of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The group contains several categories and classes of durable chemicals and materials with properties that included oil, water, temperature, chemical and fire resistance, as well as electrical insulating properties.
While some research has indicated possible associations with certain biomarkers or health outcomes in people for PFOA and PFOS, results across studies examining these endpoints have found either inconsistent or conflicting observations and do not show causation. 3M and other leading experts around the world continue to research PFAS to look for potential health issues.