Watchdog says it will sue over chemical pollution in Tennessee River

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT)-  A North Alabama watchdog group has notified 3M Corp and the City of Decatur that it plans to sue over the disposal of hazardous waste at several locations in and around Decatur.

The Tennessee Riverkeeper’s say the lawsuit is aimed at stopping the ongoing release of toxic chemicals into the Tennessee River and groundwater in the area.

The environmental  group wants Decatur to remove the chemicals before wastewater is released into the river. The group also wants 3M held responsible for continued cleanup. 3M says it has already been working on several projects to prevent release of the materials into the environment.

The Decatur 3M plant no longer uses the chemicals in its manufacturing process for products like Scotchguard. The company, which employs more than 800 people in Decatur, said today it has already engaged in a number of projects aimed at reducing the chemicals release into the environment and the work is ongoing. A spokesman for the company today cited 30-year company study that found no adverse health effects in its workers from exposure to the chemicals.

David Whiteside, executive director of the Tennessee Riverkeepers, says there is substantial cleanup work that needs to be done.  The group cites studies that have linked the chemicals to various cancers. The Environmental Protection Association says the chemicals are “extremely persistent” and don’t break down in soil or water.

“The water and the fish in the Tennessee River belong to all the people of the Tennessee River Valley, and we are demanding an accounting from those parties that are fouling the fish and polluting the waterways,” Whiteside said.

The lawsuit – which requires a 90-day notice period before the case moves forward – will  argue Decatur has taken solid and liquid waste at its landfills from 3M for years. The Riverkeepers want Decatur to ensure its wastewater treatment removes the chemicals before release into the river. The watchdog group also wants 3M to do more to prevent the chemicals at the plant site from migrating into the river.

An attorney for the City of Decatur said they have received notice of the lawsuit and plan to respond at the appropriate time.  The notice to sue also lists BFI Waste Systems of Alabama as a planned defendant.  The notice says the company took sludge with the chemicals into its Morris Farm landfill in Hillsboro.  A company representative did not return a call today seeking comment.

The Riverkeepers say the chemicals have been around too long already. They point to state regulators issuing fish consumption advisories for portions of Wheeler Reservoir based on the concentration of the chemicals.

A 3M spokesman said the company voluntarily began phasing out use of the chemicals in 2000 and cited a CDC study that argued the presence of the chemicals does not imply they cause an adverse health effect.

But the Riverkeepers aren’t persuaded.

“The ability to go out on the river and catch a fish and feed it to your family is as American as apple pie,” Whiteside said. “Unfortunately that right has been stolen from the people of Decatur by various polluters.”