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3M and Scotchgard: Actions speak louder than words

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In their PFOS phaseout announcement, 3M paints itself as a corporate hero: "While this chemistry has been used effectively for more than 40 years and our products are safe, our decision to phase out production is based on our principles of responsible environmental management. . . . We're reallocating resources to accelerate innovation in more sustainable opportunities and technologies." (view entire document)

Immediately following the phaseout announcement, 3M claims it made dramatic cuts in its PFOS emissions. But given all the the company scientists knew, why hadn't they acted earlier. In the three years following the 1997 discovery of blood bank contamination, the company cut PFOS emissions by astounding percentages, achieving 50 percent reductions for wastewater discharges and 40 percent reductions for air emissions at their Decatur, Alabama plant. (view entire document)

In the phaseout plan 3M submitted to EPA, the company says it will finally be "utilizing carbon adsorption systems to recover POSF [a PFOS precursor] from more dilute wastewater streams. Systems have been installed and are operating in both Antwerp, Belgium, and Decatur, Alabama. Carbon adsorption has been shown to be effective in the removal of POSF and POSF based compounds." (view entire document)

But carbon adsorption is hardly a new technology. If 3M is committed to environmental responsibility, why did this effective technology go unused for 50 years? 3M's greenwashing goes so far as to call these too-little, too-late waste reductions "Stewardship Actions."

How much PFOS was released to water and air since 1948 is anyone's guess. In 1979, 3M knew its Decatur plant was dumping effluent with high organic fluoride levels into the Tennessee River. (view entire document) Estimates of PFOS-related chemicals produced as waste in 1997 - at the Alabama plant alone - stand at over 1 million pounds (view entire document)(view entire document)

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last updated: march.27.2009

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