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WI Sees Hope After 3M Decision on Forever Chemicals


Thursday, December 22, 2022   

Wisconsin and all other states have seen the effects of so-called "forever chemicals." Those pushing for their removal say 3M's announcement to phase them out is another step in the right direction.

The major manufacturer of products from cleaning supplies to Post-it notes said it plans to ensure it is no longer producing items containing PFAS chemicals by the year 2025.

John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America, said it is an important step in trying to reduce harmful pollutants from reaching natural resources.

"PFAS chemicals are toxic, and they persist in the environment," Rumpler explained. "They've been contaminating drinking water sources all across the country."

States such as Wisconsin have enacted large-scale responses, including new water standards, following detection of forever chemicals in soil and groundwater.

3M has faced multiple legal challenges for producing PFAS while allegedly knowing the dangers. It said it made the decision based on changes in the business and regulatory landscape. In August, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said it would propose designating certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.

Other companies, such as retailers and restaurants, have made similar pledges to eliminate or reduce use of forever chemicals in food packaging, textiles and other products. Still, Rumpler emphasized others need to follow suit, and hopes this week's announcement will spur more action.

"3M is hardly the only game in town," Rumpler acknowledged. "But it is a major player in the industry space and a significant marker for its peers about moving in the right direction."

Scott Laeser, water program director for the group Clean Wisconsin, said there are further opportunities in the Badger State. He cited responses by the Culver's restaurant chain and public safety departments as a promising effort to protect the public.

"Any time that we can reduce our water's exposure to PFAS, our food's exposure to PFAS and our use of products that might allow PFAS to get in the dust in our home that we then inhale, we will reduce our exposure to these chemicals in our bodies," Laeser outlined.

Some businesses, including the state's large paper industry, have balked at the state's response. As part of the evolving research surrounding PFAS contamination, experts have linked the chemicals to multiple health risks, including increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, as well as small decreases in infant birthweights.

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