Jose Mercury News
22 June 2003
working out recent stain on its business
information on toxicity concerns of Scotchgard-related chemical.
Minn. - Scotchgard is back.
familiar plaid aerosol can never really disappeared from the shelves.
But Scotchgard's journey back to the market has been rocky -- and
the stain repellent is still missing from the furniture upholstery
industry. 3M's venerable line of fabric protectants -- so ubiquitous
that "Scotchgard'' became a verb -- has been struggling since
the Environmental Protection Agency pressed 3M in 2000 to stop using
the chemistry behind the spray.
based in Maplewood, has lost two-thirds of its former $300 million-a-year
Scotchgard business and hopes to rebuild it to $500 million by 2008.
Finally finished with its phase-out and armed with a new formula
it says is safe and better than ever, 3M is launching major Scotchgard
replacements this summer, marketing them like new products.
pretreated with Scotchgard will reappear in stores this summer,
with the debut of the new Scotchgard aerosol spray for consumers.
A new ad campaign is slated for this winter. And Scotchgard is headed
for places it hasn't been before, like eyeglass lenses and paint.
it can't happen fast enough for Wall Street, which wants to know
what's taking so long even as the EPA sharpens scrutiny of the chemical
family behind both Scotchgards, old and new.
there's some confusion among Scotchgard customers.
thought they discontinued this stuff,'' said a woman picking up
a can of the new Scotchgard at 3M's recent shareholders meeting.
nearly 50 years 3M has marketed Scotchgard, a bedrock brand that
evolved after some rubber particles a chemist cooked up in 1953
accidentally splattered on an assistant's tennis shoe. The stubborn
goo wouldn't come off.
grew to encompass some 100 products -- most based on a key chemical
known for its remarkable ability to repel nearly anything people
threw at it. The chemical breaks down into perfluorooctane sulfonate,
or PFOS, a manmade substance that is part of a family of chemicals
characterized by chains of carbon atoms of various lengths bonded
to fluorine atoms, yielding armorlike compounds. PFOS has a chain
of eight carbon atoms, or C8.
PFOS began showing up everywhere: in polar bears, dolphins, baby
eagles, tap water and human blood. So did its eight-carbon cousin
perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which 3M sold to other companies
such as DuPont for use in products like Teflon.
two manmade perfluorochemicals don't decompose in nature. They kill
laboratory rats at high doses, and there are potential links to
tissue problems, developmental delays and some forms of cancer.
knew much of this because it had studied the chemicals for decades.
It insists that at typical low levels found in Scotchgard and elsewhere
the chemicals posed no health or environmental risk.
former employee has sued the company over exposure to perflourochemicals
at the company's Decatur, Ala., plant. 3M says the case has no merit.
accounts differ as to whether 3M voluntarily phased out the problematic
C8 chemistry or was pressured by the EPA after the company shared
its data in late 1999. The EPA concluded PFOS was toxic. Either
way, the phase-out was largely completed in December, although 3M
still makes small amounts of PFOA for its own use in Germany. 3M,
which still monitors chemical plants in Cottage Grove, Minn.; Decatur;
and Antwerp, Belgium, insists there are no risks for employees who
handled or were exposed to the chemicals.
phase-out went unnoticed by most consumers as 3M rapidly substituted
another, less effective spray for consumers. But the move stunned
industrial clients -- the bulk of Scotchgard's business. 3M's chemists
scrambled to reformulate Scotchgard for all its markets, but the
lags have hurt.
replacement aerosol-can Scotchgard that 3M first distributed to
stores didn't work as well as the original. It was based on non-perfluoro
chemistry and worked on water but not grease. Nothing repels like
perfluorochemicals, 3M concluded. The challenge was to find safe
settled on perfluorobutane sulfonate, or PFBS, a four-carbon cousin
of the chemical in the old Scotchgard, as the building block for
Scotchgard's new generation.
providing protection you almost can't do it without a fluoro-chemical,
short of plastic slipcovers,'' said Michael Harnetty, vice president
of 3M's protective materials division.
new C4-based Scotchgard is completely safe, 3M says. The company
adds that it has worked closely with the EPA and has performed more
than 40 studies, which are confidential. The EPA won't release them.