3M Knew of PFAS Dangers for Years, Former Company Chemist Says

Chemist working for 3M detected PFAS in human blood in 1997, and now indicates that the company has known about the potential risks since the 1970s.

Amid mounting evidence about the widespread health risks posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have widely polluted drinking water sources throughout the U.S., a new investigative report details how 3M Company knew for decades that it’s toxic “forever chemicals” were accumulating inside the human body and posing a serious danger, but chose to ignore warnings from it’s own scientists and suppress information.

The report was published by the independent journalism group ProPublica on May 20, delving into research done by a former 3M Company chemist, Kris Hansen. At a request from her boss in 1997, Hansen began testing human blood for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which belongs to a class of chemicals known today as PFAS.

3M Company has been manufacturing and selling products containing PFAS chemicals for decades, including non-stick pans, food wrappers, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and other items benefiting from the resistance to grease, oil and water. However, there is now growing evidence that the chemicals persist for decades and build up inside the human body, increasing the risk of a myriad of health effects, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative cancer and other injuries.

As a result of the failure to warn about the dangers associated with the chemicals, 3M Company now faces thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits being pursued by individuals diagnosed with injuries after exposure to the chemicals in their drinking water, particularly around airports, military bases and other firefighter training locations where AFFF was regularly released into the environment. The company also faces AFFF firefighter lawsuits brought by individuals directly exposed to the chemicals during fire training and response exercises.

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While the litigation has uncovered a steady stream of information about the PFAS dangers to human health, none of this was known by the public when Hansen began conducting numerous tests using blood from the American Red Cross and other sources, all of which indicated the chemical was present in humans around the globe.

Hansen now indicates that her research determined PFOS only began to show up in humans after 3M began manufacturing the chemical for use in products. What Hanson did not discover until many years later is that 3M Company had already known PFAS was a problem since at least the 1970s, and had detected the chemicals in lab rats, determining they could accumulate over time, resulting in adverse health effects.

Later, Hanzen was informed by another 3M employee about tests by 3M researchers in 1981 which detected PFOS in the blood of humans. However, the more the scientist tested, the more 3M officials tried to discredit her concerns, never telling her about the previous studies, and severely restricting her research and shunning her until she eventually left the company.

According to the report, it was not until May 2000 that 3M officials revealed that the company had detected PFAS in human blood stored in blood banks, claiming the findings were a surprise. However, 3M scientists claimed at that time that there was no danger from PFAS to human health.

Hansen reportedly kept quiet about her research for 3M for two decades, until 2022 when her job was eliminated, and she contacted ProPublica investigators to talk about what she had experienced. By then, concerns over PFAS had gone public, and independent tests had revealed the chemicals were ubiquitous in human blood samples.

June 2024 PFAS Contamination Lawsuit Update

Given common questions of fact and law presented in thousands of PFAS lawsuits now being pursued against 3M Company and other manufacturers, coordinated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, where the claims are currently centralized for discovery and a series of early bellwether trials.

Although the manufacturers have reached proposed settlement over damages sustained by local water suppliers, who have been left with the costs associated with cleaning up the toxic chemicals, there have been no settlements in PFAS injury lawsuits brought by individuals exposed to the chemicals through drinking water, or firefighters directly exposed through AFFF foam.

Last year, Judge Gergel directed the lawyers involved in the litigation to select a group of 28 representative personal injury claims for an PFAS injury bellwether pool, involving plaintiffs who say they were exposed to chemicals that contaminated drinking water.

However, the first cases are unlikely to go before a jury for several years. In addition, the outcome of these claims will not have any binding impact on the other individual lawsuits, although they will be closely watched and may influence how much manufacturers may pay to settle lawsuits brought by other plaintiffs.

2 Comments

  • melissaJune 4, 2024 at 7:08 am

    "Overall, animal studies have not demonstrated that PFAS cause harm to human health at current or historical levels."

  • NicholasMay 30, 2024 at 9:09 am

    No economic interest should ever be above the reverence for life, however this is what laissez faire all too free markets have brought us, profits over man and nature. Will our tax dollars be used to subsidize this mess? Here in my town of Parsippany, NJ local politicians are using PFAS as an excuse to increase local tax, insinuating "we the people" are somehow obligated to remedy the contaminate[Show More]No economic interest should ever be above the reverence for life, however this is what laissez faire all too free markets have brought us, profits over man and nature. Will our tax dollars be used to subsidize this mess? Here in my town of Parsippany, NJ local politicians are using PFAS as an excuse to increase local tax, insinuating "we the people" are somehow obligated to remedy the contaminated wells. Never in the history of democratic societies has the populace been more removed from the decision making process than it is today. Our Collective Global future is being made behind closed doors by trade representatives-appointed officials with the blessing of amorphous, transnational corporations. Much of so-called Progress is a myth, as progress in reality is the demise of nature, and community vis pollution, and corporate irresponsibility. Flint Michigan and Bhopal India are two good examples.

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