As the previous issue of the Report went to print, 3M Company announced that it had reached an agreement with the State of Alabama to clean up chemicals it manufactured that had polluted the drinking water for thousands of residents in Decatur, Alabama, as well as surface water, groundwater and various sites around northwestern portions of the state. 3M has manufactured PFAS, which are widely known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment, for many years at its Decatur facility.
These chemicals are linked with numerous health issues and, as a result, gained significant public attention due to their widespread use in a variety of consumer products. PFAS have been found in the public water supply of tens of millions of Americans and require special treatment to remove from drinking water.
The contamination in northwestern Alabama is extensive. In 2019, 3M settled a lawsuit filed by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority that sought compensation for a filtration system capable of removing PFAS from its drinking water. This settlement, however, did not address the surrounding areas and groundwater contaminated with PFAS.
The settlement reached with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) requires 3M to continue to investigate and remediate contaminated sites, conduct additional research studying PFAS health impacts, install and operate specialized filtration systems capable of reducing the levels of PFAS in its discharge, and analyze the most effective water treatment technologies.
The consent order includes all PFAS chemical releases, past and future, and will cover more than 5,000 PFAS chemicals that are currently in existence. Although much research has been conducted on the older, more common PFAS such as PFOS and PFOA, many newer chemicals have been developed to replace those, and less research has been done on whether they present the same health risks.
3M’s recognition that its chemicals are harmful and have contaminated the environment is a welcome sign that it understands its responsibility to clean up the environment. Significant work lies ahead, however, because numerous lawsuits have been filed by a variety of Plaintiffs exposed to these chemicals across the country.
Lawyers in our firm, along with Roger H. Bedford of Roger Bedford & Associates, have filed lawsuits on behalf of the water systems in Gadsden and Centre, Alabama. These complaints allege that carpet and textile companies, manufacturers, and chemical suppliers located upstream in Dalton, Georgia, are responsible for contaminating the Coosa River and Weiss Lake. The lawsuits were filed to ensure that these entities, not ratepayers in Gadsden and Centre, would pay to decontaminate their drinking water.
This story appears in the September 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.