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3M agrees to PFOA curbs

Says U.S. targets are already met

Mar 3, 2006 | St. Paul Pioneer Press

3M Co. and seven other companies have signed onto a voluntary U.S. government program that aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of a chemical known as PFOA.

The effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comes after findings that the chemical is present in the environment and human blood. Last month, a group of scientists that advises the EPA said the chemical is likely a carcinogen.

"Aggressive corporate action is the right thing to do now," Susan Hazen, an EPA administrator, said Thursday. "The EPA is not waiting; the companies are not waiting."

The EPA plan calls for a 95 percent reduction in PFOA emissions by 2010, compared with 2000 levels. The effort also aims to virtually eliminate the chemical from emissions and products by 2015.

The seven other companies that signed onto the EPA's voluntary PFOA-reduction program are DuPont, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Arkema Inc., AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Daikin and Solvay Solexis.

Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, was made by Maplewood-based 3M for years and was used in nonstick products, including DuPont's Teflon brand. Animal studies have shown the chemical can damage the liver. But 3M contends that more than 25 years of medical surveillance of its employees who were exposed to PFOA and a related chemical called PFOS have not shown adverse health effects.

When the EPA's advisory board said PFOA is likely a carcinogen, 3M scientists disagreed. They believe the scientific evidence suggests PFOA isn't likely to cause cancer in humans.

3M says it already has achieved a greater than 95 percent reduction in PFOA emissions in the United States and 88 percent worldwide since 2000. But its past work with perfluorochemicals continues to cause it legal problems.

Lawsuits are pending against 3M in Washington County and in Alabama. Residents near 3M sites say that the company released perfluorochemicals into the environment. Attorneys for the Washington County plaintiffs have coordinated blood tests for dozens of residents to measure levels of exposure and are seeking class-action status for the suit.

3M and its Dyneon subsidiary already are well into a plan to reduce PFOA emissions, having announced in 2000 that production of PFOA would be phased out. 3M has said it no longer makes PFOA or PFOS. The company does use PFOA in one Dyneon plant in Gendorf, Germany, to make fluoropolymers, which are used in automotive fuel systems, among other things.

The Gendorf facility employs a process patented by 3M that recaptures and recycles most of the PFOA involved in making fluoropolymers, said Bill Nelson, a 3M spokesman. "That technology is something we're prepared to license to other companies," he said, "and some have expressed interest."

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