Prepare Now for PFAS & Parts Obsolescence

Cally Edgren
March 20, 2023
Sponsored by: Assent
As one of the world's largest manufacturers, 3M has a profound influence on the global supply chain. That's why it's so important to understand the operational impact of their decision to cease the manufacture of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by the end of 2025.

Given 3M's size, this decision will affect thousands of companies across numerous industries — automotive, construction, manufacturing, transportation, and beyond. It will even affect those that rely on PFAS' unique properties not only for their finished products, but for the processes and equipment that manufacture those products and/or keep their employees safe — both from an engineering control perspective as well as personal protective equipment.

3M is likely just the first chemical company to end PFAS manufacturing and use. As the negative environmental and health effects are better understood, global regulations and restrictions are expanding alongside litigation, liability, and contamination clean-up costs. With increased investor, customer, and competitor pressure will come a push for businesses to eliminate PFAS, too. That's why a proactive strategy is critical for business continuity.

It may take a long time to root PFAS out of your products, processes, and purchased materials. By starting now, you can create a sustainable supply chain that is free of these substances; give yourself time to redesign products and equipment; and avoid the non-compliance penalties, litigation, and remediation costs.

Where Are PFAS Found? What Products Are Affected?

The widespread use of PFAS across multiple tiers of your supply chain — and the sheer number of PFAS that are currently on the market — make it difficult to remove them from supply chains.

To give you an idea of scale, once the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) proposal is enacted, it will restrict more than 10,000 PFAS chemicals.

Thanks to their resistance to water, heat, and oil, PFAS can be found in numerous products across virtually every industry, including:

  • Fast food packaging and wrappers
  • Pesticides
  • Dental floss
  • Cosmetics
  • Water-resistant clothes
  • Furniture
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Fire-fighting foam
  • Chemical processes (e.g., chrome electroplating)

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. Recent lawsuits show that PFAS can be found in places some companies may not consider (e.g., fruit juice and underwear).

PFAS are not limited to consumer products, either. They can be found in medical technology and machinery, manufacturing processes, many types of personal protective equipment (PPE), and numerous other health and safety applications.

It is more likely than not that you have PFAS somewhere in your supply chain as well as your operations and maintenance processes. If no longer available, you could face serious disruptions.

Why a Reactive Response Won't Work

While 3M's 2025 deadline is still a few years away, it is essential you identify PFAS in your supply chain now or you could face risks and penalties.

Both the U.S. and the EU are pushing to hold manufacturers accountable, restricting PFAS use or enforcing reporting requirements. Non-compliance could result in everything from fines to criminal investigations. Lawsuits are also widespread and beyond the direct cost, they may affect your company's public reputation among consumers and investors alike:
  • California Attorney General Rob Bonta is suing 3M and DuPont among others for damaging natural resources and endangering human health. Beyond chemical manufacturers, the lawsuit also names PFAS distributors and users.

  • 3M also settled a lawsuit in 2018, for $850 million, after PFAS were found polluting the groundwater in Minnesota. They came to an agreement with the country of Belgium in 2022 for €571 million.

  • Kraft Heinz is the subject of a class action lawsuit after PFAS were found in Strawberry Kiwi Capri Sun.
All of these lawsuits are driving insurance companies to focus on companies' actions because they don't want the financial risks associated with PFAS lawsuits and cleanup costs. That means companies can expect stricter rules or even dropped liability coverage.

The Steps Needed for Proactive Preparation

Parts obsolescence is a severe risk for manufacturers as they may have to spend significant time and resources redesigning existing products or finding replacements for processes.

To mitigate these risks, companies should take the following steps.

Understand Your Current Risks

You won't know how parts obsolescence will affect your products and equipment until you know where PFAS are used in your supply chain. Find out what data you currently have to evaluate your risks and understand how they will affect all aspects of your business.

Discover Your Blind Spots

Acknowledging what you don't know is also important. Many companies have focused on product design risks but overlooked how they use PFAS for processes, maintenance, and employee health and safety.

Don't Forget Reporting Requirements & Restrictions

Specific PFAS are already subject to laws, including Proposition 65, EU REACH, and POPs. While understanding forthcoming requirements is important, take time to understand what is currently required in your markets so you're prepared to meet existing obligations — and pivot when new regulations crop up.

Redesigning Early Is Better Than Redesigning Too Late

Redesigns will be in many manufacturers' futures, especially as PFAS products are taken off the market and companies search for a replacement. Don't wait until it's too late and get involved in a rushed redesigning effort (or a costly competition for parts).

Plan for All PFAS Now

In the past, most PFAS-related regulations have focused on restricting or enforcing reporting for specific PFAS substances like PFOA or PFOS. However, that is already changing — for example, the new law in Maine applies to any PFAS chemical. The “all PFAS” impacts have already started and will only accelerate from here.

Parts Obsolescence Is Coming Sooner, Not Later

There is no hard date when parts will become obsolete. However, 3M's decision is a clear tipping point. Companies that want to be prepared should act now by first understanding all the ways they use PFAS, including in products, processes, machine maintenance, and employee safety. Doing so will provide a competitive advantage and set manufacturers across industries up for success.

Assent has solutions across various regulations, including REACH and Proposition 65. To learn how to prepare for PFAS risks, click here.


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About the Author

Cally Edgren
Cally is a proven compliance program leader with experience developing, communicating, and executing company goals and strategies. She is a subject matter expert on product materials compliance as well as market access certifications and has a background in program and process development to support regulatory compliance requirements. Cally possesses over 27 years of experience in developing and managing global compliance programs at Rockwell Automation and Kohler Co. She supports Assent’s strategic direction and guides clients through product compliance topics and issues, including PFAS.

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