Trial date set for lawsuit over Tennessee River pollution

MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. - It's almost two years away but a court date has finally been set regarding the pollution in the Tennessee River. If successful, the lawsuit could lead to major efforts to clean up the river in and around Decatur. But there are still some major hurdles yet to overcome.

Decatur Utilities’ waste water treatment plant has a state permit to dump an unlimited quantity of chemical compounds known as PFC’s directly into the river. That includes the compounds PFOA and PFOS. Those are the same two chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency warned last year could be harmful to humans at lower concentrations than previously thought. The EPA cited a growing body of evidence the chemicals have been linked to birth defects, developmental issues, reproductive problems and cancer. That warning led the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority to advise customers not to drink their water.

3M in Decatur produced those chemicals for decades, and much of the waste made its way into the river. Despite the fact 3M stopped making those compounds years ago, the runoff from waste 3M dumped in a Morgan County landfill is still being pumped into the river by way of Decatur's waste water treatment plant.

The environmental watchdog group Tennessee Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit in federal court last year asking that 3M be forced to take steps to remove the chemicals from the river.

3M attorney William Brewer says, "3M believes the actions of the Tennessee Riverkeeper are premised on an incorrect understanding that the mere presence of these chemicals equals harm."

The founder and executive director of Tennessee Riverkeeper, David Whiteside, says, “The chemicals are only harmful only when you're exposed to them, by swimming or boating on the river, drinking water taken from the river, or eating fish caught in the river.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health recommends not eating fish caught in Wheeler Basin more than once a month.

That lawsuit is now scheduled for trial in March of 2019 with a pre-trial conference set for January 2019. The lawsuit suit does not ask for monetary damages, just the reclamation of the river.