Daikin America has agreed to pay $4 million to settle claims with the West Morgan East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority, which has had to install costly water filtration systems to remove toxic chemicals from its water supply.
The settlement is the second time Daikin has agreed to resolve claims that it contaminated the Tennessee River with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA), which are used to create non-stick, waterproof, or stain-resistant coatings on a variety of consumer products.
Perfluorinated chemical (PFC) contamination is a huge problem in some parts of Alabama. The state is tied with New Hampshire for having the second-highest number of drinking water sites contaminated with PFCs, which remain in the environment for generations and accumulate in the tissues of humans and animals, potentially causing cancer and other serious health problems.
Daikan previously agreed to pay $5 million to settle claims with both the WMEL Water and Sewer Authority and a class of utility customers. The water utility serves about 57,000 customers in north Alabama. That settlement, however, was rejected by the court after 300 customers objected. The new settlement, announced July 18, covers just the utility while individual customer complaints are proceeding separately.
According to AL.com, the WMEL Water and Sewer Authority welcomed the new settlement and said that it spares customers the expense of having to pay for the new but temporary carbon-based filtration system. The utility quickly added the new system after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned a couple years ago that PFOS and PFOA are more harmful to human health than previously thought, resulting in a “do not drink” order to its customers.
Thousands of the utility’s customers continued to pay their water bills even when they could not drink the water or use it for cooking.
But the utility will have to install a more expensive, permanent reverse osmosis filtration system to deal with the ongoing pollution problem – an expense that WMEL hopes will be covered by its unresolved complaint against 3M, another company that allegedly released the chemicals into the Tennessee River.
Both Daikin and 3M made or used PFOS and PFOA in their facilities just a few miles upstream of the WMEL’s intake.
According to the federal health authorities, PFCs can promote a multitude of adverse health effects in humans, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and diminished immune system.
The EPA’s 2016 public health advisory warned that eight Alabama water systems tested positive for dangerously high levels of PFCs. Other contamination sites not covered by the Daikin settlement are located in Gadsden and Centre, which draw their water from the Coosa River.
Beasley Allen has filed lawsuits for the Gadsden and Centre water systems against carpet manufacturers and chemical suppliers located up the Coosa River in Dalton, Georgia.
The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden’s case was recently remanded back to Etowah County where discovery is underway. The Water Works and Sewer Board of the Town of Centre’s case has been remanded to Cherokee County and discovery is underway in that case as well. Both of the water systems continue to work with authorities to monitor for PFOS and PFOA contamination in their water supplies.