DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - Yet another lawsuit is filed over the PFOA and PFOS contamination in the Tennessee River. This time it's the environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper suing the City of Decatur and Decatur Utilities, Morgan County, 3M and a host of others.
Unlike other lawsuits thus far, this one is not seeking money. This lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court under the Resource Conservation And Recovery Act, and is intended to stop the pollution of the Tennessee River.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper is working with a team of experts who believe that 3M has not done enough to remediate their pollution and that a lot more can be done to remediate this pollution in the efforts of making it safer for the people of North Alabama,” says David Whiteside, spokesperson for Tennessee Riverkeeper.
But many people in North Alabama have only recently become aware of the presence of the chemicals and their possible health effects, thanks to Don Sims. He manages the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority and he blew the whistle earlier this month when he told his customers don't drink the water because of the presence of PFOA and PFOS.
Whiteside says his organization had filed notice of their intent to sue months before Sims made his bold announcement. He says they're also going after the City of Decatur and Decatur Utilities, Morgan County, and two area landfills that collectively contribute to recycling the contaminated wastes back into the Tennessee River.
3M produced both compounds at their Decatur facility until approximately 2002, dumping an undisclosed quantity of contaminated waste into landfills in Morgan and Lawrence Counties over the years. Rainwater that seeps down into the landfill eventually emerges as leachate contaminated with those and other wastes. The Morgan County landfill puts the leachate it captures into the sewer and it winds up at Decatur Utilities’ Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, next to Ingall’s Harbor on Hwy. 20 in Decatur, where it is filtered and the solids separated from the liquid. After treatment, the water is discharged into the river and the solids, referred to most often as sludge, is trucked back to the landfill where the process repeats itself.
“This river unites all of the communities in the Tennessee Valley,” Whiteside says. He adds, “But unfortunately it's being diminished by a few bad actors in the Tennessee Valley, like 3M. And Riverkeeper's mission is to take that river back, in the name of the people, and reduce the pollution and make this river a better asset for the Tennessee Valley and everyone, including the wildlife and all the people."
An attorney representing the City of Decatur and Morgan County responded to the lawsuit Friday afternoon. Barney Lovelace points out there are no regulations limiting the discharge of PFC compounds from a wastewater treatment plant. He goes on to say that the company that produced those compounds, and dumped them into the environment should be responsible for bearing the expense of removing them.
A statement from Robin Higgs, acting manager of 3M’s Decatur plant says, “Our company has voluntarily undertaken numerous projects to help reduce the potential release of these materials into the local environment.”
A Decatur Utilities spokesperson told WHNT News 19 recently their wastewater discharge permit does not limit the quantity of PFC compounds they can discharge into the river. A check of the permit, issued February, 2016, reveals the utility will take a “grab” measure of the treated liquid once each quarter and report that to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management annually.