It’s Thursday, December 22, and a major chemical company says it’s exiting the PFAS business.

After years of pressure, the chemical giant 3M announced on Tuesday that it will stop manufacturing hazardous “forever chemicals” by the end of 2025.

The chemicals — technically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — have nonstick and water-repellent properties that have made them useful in everything from cookware and food packaging to outdoor clothing. The “forever” moniker comes from the fact that they don’t break down in the environment, and they’ve been linked to a range of health problems including cancer and liver damage. Virtually every American has some amount of PFAS in their blood, and the Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this year that even undetectable levels of two common types of PFAS in drinking water threaten public health.

3M previously announced in 2000 that it would cease manufacturing these two PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — but it has continued producing “short-chain” versions, despite robust evidence that their health and environmental impacts are just as bad as or worse than those of the older long-chain kinds. Attorneys general from 16 states have taken legal action against PFAS manufactures over their contamination of water supplies and other natural resources. And investors managing $8 trillion in assets called on companies to phase them out last month.

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Mike Schade, a program director for the consumer safety nonprofit Toxic-Free Future, told me 3M’s announcement is “a big win for public health and the environment.” He and others are now calling for state and federal regulators to hold 3M financially accountable for addressing PFAS pollution, requiring them to pay for community cleanups as well as programs to monitor water quality and screen for medical conditions caused by PFAS. They also want other chemical makers like Chemours and Solvay to cease PFAS production and for customer-facing businesses like outdoor retailers to ban them from their products.

As the PFAS phaseout progresses, Schade said it will be important to ensure that the substances aren’t replaced with alternatives that are just as harmful. “We don’t want to be here 20 years from now and find out that they’ve switched to another class of chemicals that poses risks to public health and the environment,” he said. “They need to be transparent and ensure those substitutes are actually safer for people and the planet.”

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