LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. -- The people of Lawrence County are afraid the lifeblood of a society, the water supply, is killing them. They feel ignored by officials elected to represent them. They want state officials including the Attorney General to hold the polluters responsible.
In Alabama, Attorney General Steve Marshall isn't saying anything. Marshall also doesn't appear to be doing anything regarding the contaminated water in Lawrence County.
But his Democratic opponent in the November election, Joe Siegelman is talking about the water issues. Siegelman is pledging to take action to address the water problem if elected.
In 2016, manufacturing chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, were found in the West-Morgan East Lawrence drinking water above recommended levels. 3M in Decatur produced the chemicals and discharged them into the Tennessee River for decades.
The WMEL water authority installed a carbon filtration system in October 2016. The carbon filtration system is expected to filter out the dangerous PFOA and PFOS chemicals. The WMEL Water Authority says the water currently meets all state and federal regulatory requirements.
The current system is supposed to help, but WMEL officials say it's not a permanent fix. They say the water treatment plant needs a reverse osmosis system estimated to cost $25 million dollars. The WMEL manager has previously told WHNT News 19 the reverse osmosis is a more advanced system to capture other industrial pollutants in water.
Other states in similar situations have taken action against the companies accused of polluting the water.
In 2010, the Attorney General of Minnesota sued 3M for contaminating the water with PFOA and PFOS. 3M settled with the state of Minnesota for $850 million in 2018. In July 2018, the Governor of Michigan wrote a letter urging his Attorney General to sue 3M for contaminating their waters with PFCs.
Siegelman said more can be done in Alabama.
"This is not a new issue. This is not an unusual problem. The fact that the Attorney General's Office has not taken a real close look at this. Has not investigated it at a minimum to find out were any laws broken, is there a public health issue that needs addressing. I fear it's because our Attorney General may not be working for the people of this state," Siegelman said.
Siegelman told WHNT News 19 he would strongly consider pursuing litigation against 3M and other companies accused of polluting the Tennessee River.
"Right now nobody is even looking to see what kind of resolutions can be made," Siegelman said. "The Attorney General is not going to be a silver bullet to all the problems in the state of Alabama. But at least you can have an Attorney General who cares, who investigates, who makes sure criminal liability or civil liability isn't something that is available on behalf of the people."
Earlier this year, Attorney General Marshall told WHNT News 19 he wasn't aware of a water quality issue in Lawrence County because state environmental regulators hadn't alerted him to a problem.
Siegelman said if he was AG he wouldn't need the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to tell him what to look into. The candidate also said there are several other environmental issues across Alabama that state officials need to address.
"No one should have to question if they should drink water, ever. Ever. And instilling the confidence back into the people of Lawrence County, we will get to the bottom of it one way or the other," Siegelman said. "And if the Attorney General isn't the solution, the sole solution. I look forward to helping find the solution."
Attorney General Marshall's office released a statement regarding the water quality issue to WHNT News 19.
"The Attorney General’s Office does not comment on potential litigation," a spokesman for the AG's office said. "However, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has been keeping our office apprised of this issue and is working diligently with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."
You can rest assured we are still pushing state officials for real answers on what they are doing to help the people of Lawrence County.