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3M and Scotchgard: The chemicals still at large

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In the wake of 3M's "voluntary" phaseout, the $2.5 billion fluoropolymer industry is on alert. Two groups of compounds related to PFOS are now under intense scrutiny by EPA. One is called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), perfluorinated chemicals that are related to PFOS but that present "a different hazard, exposure, and risk picture." (view entire document) The other is a group of chemicals called telomers, which are characterized by a common manufacturing process that results in products like DuPont's non-stick Teflon coatings, a ubiquitous material in the industrialized world.

Even though 3M committed publicly to end production of PFOA, correspondence between the company and the government reveal that 3M had presented no formal, agreed-upon program for the phaseout. In documents of May 16, 2000, 3M tried to avoid the subject of PFOA: "Other products covered . . . including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), will be separately discussed with EPA." (view entire document) EPA had a different sense of what 3M had promised, saying on May 16 that "3M has also committed to ending production of PFOA." (view entire document) Whatever the intent of 3M's position, EPA is now engaged in a hazard assessment of PFOA chemicals. (view entire document) 3M has made no public pledge to phase out PFOA.

The species in whose blood or liver PFOS was tentatively identified in a 1999 study commissioned by 3M include California sea lion, albatross, Caspian seal, and cormorant. In the same study, PFOA was also found in yolk from cormorant and gull eggs. (view entire document) In laboratory studies, PFOA has resulted in dose-related increases in liver, pancreas, and cell tumors. (view entire document) A 1992 study of workers at 3M's Chemolite plant in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, found that, although the total number of deaths was small, "Among men, ten years of employment in PFOA production was associated with a significant three fold increase in prostate cancer mortality compared to no employment in production." (view entire document)

DuPont uses PFOA to produce Teflon fibers that form the famous non-stick coating used on cookware, among other things. The manufacturing process involves two high-heat "sintering" steps that DuPont claims destroys the PFOA. But other perfluoro chemicals persist in the Teflon, evidenced in 3M's warnings against the use of Teflon in sample containers for test programs involving analysis of perfluorinated compounds. (view entire document) Another 3M document points to "the potential for widespread distribution in the environment as this material is used by the Teflon coating industry, both domestically and internationally." (view entire document) This potential clearly heightens the need for safety assessments.

A telomer research group has been formed among manufacturers and has initiated a voluntary testing program. A Fluoropolymers Manufacturing Group has also met with EPA to lobby for continuing use of PFOA in the production of other chemicals. Companies involved in these two groups include DuPont, Asahi, Clariant, Daikin, Atlfina, Ausimont, DuPont/Dow Elastomers, and Dyneon (a 3M company). (view entire document)(view entire document)

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last updated: march.27.2009

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