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A problem with their ‘miracle cure’ PFOS? 3M already knew in 1975

1968: Fluorine first appears in human blood

In 1968, organic fluorine was found in human blood for the first time. The consequences of this are not clear at the time, nor is their origin. Subsequent studies on ancient blood samples indicate that 11 years earlier—in 1957, just after 3M began producing PFOS—the fluorochemicals were present in human blood around the world.

1975: Fluorine in blood is linked to 3M

A University of Florida researcher calls 3M’s Minnesota parent company. He has found fluorine chemicals in his own blood, and also found the same in the blood of his colleagues and that of other test subjects. He wants to know if they could possibly come from the company’s PFOS or PFOA. “We don’t have the faintest idea,” is the reply. Barely a few months later, they do know the answer at 3M. Their own researchers confirm that the molecules of their products do indeed match those in the blood, but they do not let the Florida scientist know.

1976: 3M employees have values ​​1,000 times higher than normal

3M tests the blood of employees at their Minnesota facility. They record fluorine levels that are 1,000 times higher than normal.

1978: 3M internal report: ‘PFOS and PFOA should be considered ‘toxic’.’

Own experiments on rats and monkeys teach 3M that their products may have negative health effects. Rats get liver disease, monkeys have convulsions. Monkeys given large amounts of PFOS even die. Documents accessed by The Intercept show that an internal report was put on the table during a meeting in Minnesota: “PFOS and PFOA should be considered ‘toxic’.” Still, the eight people attending the meeting decide there is no substantial health risk and there is no need to notify the US Environmental Protection Agency. The studies on the monkeys and rats remain secret, and are not further investigated.

1979: Toxicologist finds ‘indications of liver effects’

While 3M continues to manufacture and takes no steps to warn of the potential dangers, the company is feeling wet. A meeting is arranged in San Francisco with a toxicologist. This points out indications of liver disease in their employees and suggests further research. “If this is also found in the blood of the population, we have a big problem.” A week later, the toxicologist makes another call to 3M, asking them to add another sentence to the meeting report: “Not only am I asking for additional testing, I am also stating that it is of the utmost importance that this being further investigated.”

1979: Red Cross finds PFOS in their donors’ blood across the US

The toxicologist’s words are not cold when 3M already knows with certainty that people across the US have traces of their product in their blood. The Red Cross notifies the company: they have found traces of the substance in blood samples from their donors from all over the country.

1980: 3M prepares ‘tough questions’

At 3M, they fear it will be a matter of days before the news gets out. Afraid of a scandal, they are already preparing potentially ‘difficult questions’ from journalists in Minnesota, according to an internal script that ‘The Intercept’ was able to view. But that ‘rehearsal’ turns out to be unnecessary. The news doesn’t get out, and 3M continues to produce without sounding the alarm about the potentially harmful effects of PFOS.

An archive image from the 3M factory in Zwijndrecht.Statue Kristof Pieters

1992: Physicist in thesis: ‘3M employees are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer’

An American physicist writes a thesis on the health effects of PFOA, studying 115 3M employees for a year. His conclusion: The staff at the facility he studied are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than those not exposed to PFOA. In his thesis he also writes that the company has been aware of that risk since 1978 through their own experiments on monkeys, but that there is no additional research on that risk. Nothing will happen with the findings from the thesis either.

1998: 3M Notifies US Environmental Agency

An environmental scientist employed by 3M makes a disturbing discovery. He finds PFOS in the blood of birds of prey and rats that live in the wild, and that are therefore not intentionally exposed to the chemicals. They did eat fish from the Tennessee River, near the 3M facility in Alabama. A lawyer for the company does not see the need for further investigation. “I am not convinced that it is necessary to investigate that hypothesis in the short term,” he emails to the company’s top management. Still, the company decided to notify the EPA environmental agency, 22 years after they were alerted by the Florida investigator about a potential problem and 19 years after the Red Cross said there were chemicals from the company in the public’s blood samples. .

2000: 3M ceases production of PFOS and PFOA

Environmental Agency EPA announces a ‘global cancer alert’ for PFOS after reviewing the documents it received from 3M. 3M then announces that it will stop producing it. The company says it did so voluntarily, a former EPA employee says it was done under pressure from them. In our country, the 3M branch in Zwijndrecht has also announced that it will stop producing PFOS, a decision that will cost 200 jobs here. The then managing director formally denies that the substance is carcinogenic. “That is absolutely not true”, he says in ‘Gazet van Antwerpen’. “We have investigated it and that is not correct at all. We have been monitoring the health of our employees for more than 20 years and have not detected a trace of cancer in that time. At 3M, we care about the environment. We have established that fluorine chemicals such as PFOS do not break down in nature, and stop so as not to harm nature.”

2001: Report 3M: ‘Workers in Zwijndrecht are at increased risk of heart disease due to exposure to PFOS’

An American epidemiologist employed by 3M examined blood samples from 3M employees in both Zwijndrecht and Alabama three times in the late 1990s. He compared the results with the medical examinations to which the employees were subjected. In 2001 he finished his report. He sees a link between the amount of flurochemicals in their blood and their cholesterol levels, which are much higher and lower in employees with a lot of fluorine in the blood. “That increases the risk of heart disease,” he concludes. A conclusion he again weakens in 2003, he is still employed by 3M, saying that it is a “minimal effect”.

The 3M site in Zwijndrecht and the contaminated area around it. Image Belgium
The 3M site in Zwijndrecht and the contaminated area around it.Image Belgium

2021: Residents of 30 municipalities around Zwijndrecht should no longer eat eggs from their own breeding

During excavation works in the context of the Oosterweel connection, samples are taken from the bottom. In the vicinity of the 3M factory in Zwijndrecht, the PFOS standards are exceeded because the substance ended up in the groundwater for years. The Antwerp public prosecutor’s office is starting an investigation into the pollution, the University of Antwerp says that people within a radius of 15 kilometers around the area should no longer eat eggs from their chickens: “That can lead to a disturbed hormone balance and an increased risk of cancer.”

A problem with their ‘miracle cure’ PFOS? 3M already knew in 1975
Source link A problem with their ‘miracle cure’ PFOS? 3M already knew in 1975

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