In a surprise announcement last May, 3M Corporation declared that it would stop making the chemical used in its popular Scotchgard fabric protector by the end of 2000 and discontinue other, similar compounds completely by 2002. The chemicals belong to a class of fluorinated compounds that are also incorporated into hundreds of products, ranging from microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers to semiconductor coatings and airplane hydraulic fluid. To its credit, 3M decided to phase out its flourishing $300-million-a-year fluorochemical business after it discovered a particular fluorochemical in the blood of humans and animals from pristine areas far from any apparent source.
That compound is perfluoro-octanyl sulfonate, or PFOS, a breakdown product of other 3M fluorochemicals. "It is new and unexpected to find fluorochemicals in the environment," remarks zoologist John P. Giesy of Michigan State University's National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, who with colleague Kurunthachalam Kannan has analyzed about 2,000 animal tissue samples for 3M. Despite the chemical's ubiquity, company officials are adamant that there is no evidence of any danger thus far.
This article was originally published with the title Scotchgard Scotched.