The New Yorker:

The company found its own toxic compounds in human blood—and kept selling them.

By Sharon Lerner

Kris Hansen had worked as a chemist at the 3M Corporation for about a year when her boss, an affable senior scientist named Jim Johnson, gave her a strange assignment. 3M had invented Scotch Tape and Post-it notes; it sold everything from sandpaper to kitchen sponges. But on this day, in 1997, Johnson wanted Hansen to test human blood for chemical contamination.

Several of 3M’s most successful products contained man-made compounds called fluorochemicals. In a spray called Scotchgard, fluorochemicals protected leather and fabric from stains. In a coating known as Scotchban, they prevented food packaging from getting soggy. In a soapy foam used by firefighters, they helped extinguish jet-fuel fires. Johnson explained to Hansen that one of the company’s fluorochemicals, PFOS—short for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid—often found its way into the bodies of 3M factory workers. Although he said that they were unharmed, he had recently hired an outside lab to measure the levels in their blood. The lab had just reported something odd, however. For the sake of comparison, it had tested blood samples from the American Red Cross, which came from the general population and should have been free of fluorochemicals. Instead, it kept finding a contaminant in the blood.

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