3M has agreed to continue to investigate and clean up landfills and other sites along the Tennessee River that discharged so-called “forever chemicals” and contaminated the drinking water of thousands of north Alabama residents. The company will also conduct more research into how those chemicals impact human health.
The company’s consent order with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) does not specify an exact dollar amount, like 3M’s landmark $850 million settlement with Minnesota. Instead, Alabama opted to negotiate a consent order that ADEM director Lance LeFleur said in a news release was “the most far-reaching and significant enforcement action to date taken in regard to PFAS in the country.”
“Our agreement intentionally does not have a cap,” he told AL.com. “So, whatever it costs to clean it out and do these studies and control the releases, 3M will pay the cost and there won’t be a penny coming out of the taxpayers’ pocket for any of this work.”
As part of the settlement, 3M will pay to clean the land of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals used to create a variety of products from non-stick coatings on cookware and stain-resist coatings on fabrics and carpets, to fire-fighting foams and grease-resistant coatings on food packaging. These chemicals are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down and there is no way to destroy them. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that PFAS chemicals could build up in the bodies of humans and animals, and that long-term exposure even in small doses was linked to an increased risk of some cancers as well as metabolic issues and developmental problems in infants.
Following that announcement, eight Alabama water systems issued drinking water alerts due to high levels of PFAS in drinking water. Members of one community just downstream of 3M’s Decatur facility were warned not to drink their tap water. Since then, water systems either changed their source of water or increased filtering processes to remove the chemicals.
3M said in a news release that it had “invested more than $100 million to address PFAS at the 3M Decatur site, including a significant cap and containment project to manage PFAS-impacted soil and groundwater, and the installation of a granular activated carbon system to remove PFAS from ground water.”
Besides Alabama and Minnesota, four other states sued 3M over the contamination of forever chemicals.