Lawsuit filed alleging chemically tainted Tennessee River water caused cancer, other diseases

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A new lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 23 plaintiffs who say their illnesses are due to consumption of water contaminated by area chemical companies and sold by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority.

The lawsuit filed in federal court involves residents of Lawrence and Morgan counties who contend they have either kidney cancer or thyroid disease, or ulcerative colitis, conditions linked to the PFC family of chemicals.

The companies named in the lawsuit include 3M, which used the chemicals PFOA and PFOS for a number of years at its Decatur plant. Particles from the chemicals were discharged into the Tennessee River. Other defendants include companies that either made or used the PFCs, Daikin America and 3M subsidiary Dyneon. It also names the water authority that sold the drinking water.

The chemicals were widely used to make surfaces impervious, such as Scotchguard.

The lawsuit argues the intake source from the authority’s drinking water is 13 miles from 3M’s plant.

“The EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management have identified Defendants’ facilities as sources of PFOA and PFOS contamination in the Tennessee River in and around Decatur, Alabama, including surface water, porewater, sediments, and fish,” the lawsuit claims. “The primary source is the 3M facility, with the high levels of POFA and PFOS in groundwater migrating into the Tennessee River.”

The lawsuit follows a health advisory issued last year by the Environmental Protection Agency on its findings that the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority’s drinking water had concentrations of the chemicals at higher than recommended levels.

The utility issued its own warning, going further, advising residents not to drink its water until improved filtration equipment could be installed. That process took a few months, but testing has shown the filters have reduced the chemical levels significantly.

Daikin has already settled another lawsuit related to discharges into the Tennessee River. Its settlement with the water authority paid the cost for the $3.9 million water treatment system. The $5 million settlement also included $450,000 in restitution for water customers who paid water bills last June even though they couldn’t drink the water.

Representatives of 3M have said the company has had a PFCs cleanup agreement with the state of Alabama since 2006. The company has also argued the EPA’s advisories concerning PFCs are incorrect.

Last year, after the water warnings were issued, 3M said, “Although we support the work of the EPA and other regulators, we believe these advisory levels are overly conservative,” according to a statement issued last June by Dr. Carol A. Ley, corporate medical director for the 3M Medical Department. “We believe that PFOS and PFOA do not present health risks at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.”

The company said that belief was based on studies of its own workers who had been exposed to the chemicals in even higher concentrations.

The lawsuit argues the defendants were negligent and reckless and it seeks class-action status for the plaintiffs. It lawsuit says the water authority had 10,425 customers, as of Sept. 30, 2016, who could join the lawsuit.