3M Scientist Regrets Role in Study of Forever Chemicals

ProPublica reports on the company's long-standing knowledge about dangers of PFOS
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2024 9:30 AM CDT
3M Scientist Regrets Role in Study of Forever Chemicals
   (Getty / Sviatoslava Vysotska)

Back in the 1990s, a 3M chemist named Kris Hansen discovered a surprising and troubling thing: Toxic "forever chemicals" were showing up in every blood sample she tested—from ordinary people all over the country. As ProPublica reports, Hansen shared the findings with superiors, only to run into friction. The discovery seemed of a bombshell nature to Hansen because it suggested that the toxic fluorochemicals the company used in products such as Scotchban and Scotchgard—particularly PFOS, or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid—were essentially leaching into our bodies. But as Sharon Lerner reports, it wasn't such a bombshell to 3M superiors, because the company had known about the dangers of these "forever chemicals" for decades. One 1979 internal report, for example, called PFOS "certainly more toxic than anticipated."

Hansen eventually got pulled off her work and took on different 3M duties, but her research results were nonetheless "quietly making their way into the files of the Environmental Protection Agency" because the company was mandated to report them. (Today, the EPA is taking action against forever chemicals.) Lerner's thoroughly reported story digs into all of this and also catches up with the retired Hansen, which leaves the reporter feeling conflicted. "Her work seemed to have helped force 3M to stop making a number of toxic chemicals, but I kept thinking about the 20 years in which she had kept quiet." As it turns out, Hansen is conflicted, too, especially for not challenging superiors who insisted the chemicals were not harmful to people. She acknowledges that her salary, which helped support a family of five, was a factor. Read the full story. (More Longform stories.)

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