On June 2, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority advised the pubic served by the water system to stop drinking tap water until further notice due to the presence of potentially hazardous levels of toxic chemicals in the water. About 100,000 people are served by the water system in Lawrence and Morgan Counties, including about 10,000 direct residential customers. Consumers are advised not to drink the tap water or use it for cooking. Boiling the water or using a household water filtration system will not remove the contaminants. Beasley Allen is currently investigating and talking with representatives from multiple water systems about the developing situation.

The “stop drinking” warning follows a May 19 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water health advisory for man-made chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA. Eight water systems in Alabama were found to have chemical levels that exceed the EPA’s standard for safety, a limit of 70 parts per trillion. The previous EPA advisory level also was based on short-term exposure. The new advisory warns of health risks connected to consuming drinking water containing the chemicals for a prolonged period, which the EPA says reflects emerging science that lower concentrations can still have long-term impacts.

“The recent ‘stop drinking’ warning from the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority further emphasizes the importance of the new EPA drinking water health advisory,” said Rhon Jones, Principal & Toxic Torts Section Head for Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C. “The water systems in Alabama that are impacted by the new health advisory are being placed in a difficult positon, because the PFOA/PFOS present in their systems were put there by companies that I believe have known for many years the potential harm these chemicals can cause. It is unfair to those water systems, and the thousands of people who depend on them.”

These chemicals were primarily used to manufacture non-stick cookware, stain resistant products, firefighting foam, waterproof clothing and other products. They do not break down naturally, and concentrations of these chemicals can build up in people over time.

Even before the new EPA advisory, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority filed a federal lawsuit last year against 3M, alleging the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Ala., was a major producer of both PFOS and PFOA until 2002. The lawsuit alleges negligence, public nuisance and trespass.

For more information about this issue, contact Rhon Jones, Principal and Toxic Torts Section Head, at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com, or Helen Taylor, Public Relations Coordinator, at Helen.Taylor@beasleyallen.com.

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