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West Morgan-East Lawrence water authority receives $5 million lawsuit settlement from Daikin

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. -- A federal judge has approved a $5 million lawsuit settlement between the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and Daikin America related to chemical contamination in the authority’s drinking water.

The settlement was approved Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon. The lawsuit was filed in September 2015 and also names 3M and Dyneon. The lawsuit is ongoing against those companies.

The settlement with Daikin was announced about a year later, pending the court’s approval. That approval was given Wednesday. The plaintiffs include the water authority and the class of residents who make up its customer base.

The heart of the settlement is Daikin agreeing to pay $4 million to cover the costs of an advanced water filtration system which is designed to ensure that the chemicals PFOS and PFOA – used by Daikin, 3M and Dyneon in Decatur – cannot enter the authority’s drinking water.

The issue came to a boil last year when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory that warned about concentrations of the two chemicals. The chemicals were used to make Scotchgard and related protects that shield material from water or grease.

The compounds don’t break down in water and have been linked to a number of health hazards. The chemicals were found at levels above the EPA’s lifetime guidelines in the authority’s drinking water.

In June 2016 the authority told residents its water was unsafe to drink, causing residents to struggle to obtain bottled water.

The authority reached an agreement to blend its water with Decatur Utilities water last year and then installed a temporary advanced filtration system, which has eliminated the chemicals in the authority’s water supply, the authority has reported.

The settlement with Daikin includes $450,000 for restitution for authority customers who paid water bills last June, even though they couldn’t drink the water. Some of the money will also go to smaller utilities, who purchase the West Morgan-East Lawrence authority’s water.

There is $550,000 set aside for attorney fees and expenses, according to court documents.

In arguing for the settlement, the authority said Daikin’s agreeing to pay for the permanent advanced water filtration system means the authority won’t have to finance the purchase of the system. That means water rates won’t have to be increased to pay that cost, the authority said.