DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - Several families in Lawrence County are worried about how chemicals in their bodies will affect their health. They all live near farm land where, for years, sewage was used as a fertilizer. Turns out there was more in the fertilizer than anyone thought.
In the Caddo community, just off County Road 358, is a large rolling field. There are numerous rolled bales of hay scatter across the 70+ acres. It's one of the sites where a company named Synagro used to dump sewage sludge. It came from a Decatur waste treatment facility and for years was considered to be an excellent fertilizer, until residents found out what was in it.
It turns out 3M and several other Decatur industries had been dumping chemicals into the sewer system. Among the chemicals was at least two perfluorochemicals, or PFC's. An attorney for the families, James Smith of Decatur, tells WHNT News 19 the chemicals apparently seeped into the ground water and into wells in the area. He says rainwater carried the PFC's onto adjoining properties and into gardens. It eventually made its way into the bloodstream of people living in the area.
"The initial blood reports indicate their PFC levels are up to 3 and 4 times what the normal PFC levels are in our bodies," Smith said during an interview with WHNT News 19. He says the families have lingering health issues they all believe are linked to their exposure to the PFC's.
Across from the field we visited Tuesday morning lives Jimmy Johnson. He was picking young turnip greens for his dinner while we were there. He explained to us he has bladder cancer, and says his 50-year old son in law died not long ago from an intestinal problem.
"They just happened to live next door to this 75-acre pasture where this PFC contaminated sludge was distributed over the course of several years," Smith explained. He says the families have already waited a couple of years but adds a report from the U.S. Department of Public Health is due to be released soon that will provide more information on blood samples the families submitted. Smith says only then will the residents know the extent of their loss and the effects of the exposure.
Late Tuesday afternoon, 3M responded to our request for a comment on the story. It reads, "3M has undertaken extensive efforts to remove PFCs from the local environment,” says Jean Sweeney, 3M Vice President of Health, Safety and Environmental Operations. “We also monitor the presence of the compounds on an ongoing basis, working in collaboration with regulatory agencies, research institutions and community stakeholders.”
WHNT News 19 will, of course, continue to follow the story and keep you apprised of any developments.