Sen. Doug Jones meets with WMEL leaders to discuss drinking water problems

TOWN CREEK, Ala. - US Senator Doug Jones is now involved with the West Morgan-East Lawrence drinking water contamination issues. Jones was the first public official to meet with WMEL leaders since the non-profit water authority asked for the state of Alabama's help in October.

In a meeting, Jones called on state officials to investigate the water concerns in Morgan and Lawrence County. The meeting comes five weeks after WHNT News 19’s investigation into the problem found ailing residents in Lawrence County were worried state officials are ignoring their plight.

"If it concerns the folks in this county, it concerns me," Sen. Jones said Wednesday night.

During the discussion, WMEL general manager, Don Sims, laid out the struggles they are facing while trying to siphon out toxic chemicals from the drinking water. Unhealthy levels of manufacturing chemicals were found in the WMEL water supply in May 2016.

The water authority installed a carbon filtration system in September 2016. It filters out the chemicals PFOA and PFOS. However, the officials are concerned because the carbon system doesn't have the ability to filter out other dangerous chemicals in the Tennessee River.

"It's drinking water. If there's a problem it's got to be fixed and it's got to be fixed fast," said Jones.

Time isn't the only issue. It's also money. It will cost the water authority tens of millions of dollars to permanently solve the problem. They need a reverse osmosis system. WMEL is currently suing 3M, the company accused of dumping the chemicals in the Tennessee River to pay for the advanced filtration system.

"There's a significant lawsuit out there about what 3M is putting in the water," said Jones. "We're going to try and see what we can do to help and make sure that everybody is aware of it. We want to make sure that all of our regulators are aware of it and people have this in the front of their mind. So we can see if there's a problem and it sounds like there is, we can do something about it."

Meanwhile, the state of Alabama doesn't appear to be doing anything. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has a permit with 3M. There is no limit on how much of the chemicals the company can pump into the river.

"There is an arm of the EPA in the state, ADEM. And they have a lot of power and they can do a lot of things if they want to. They just need to come up here," said Jones.

Jones told WHNT News 19 he believes it's the state's responsibility to address the concerns first. However, he adds that he will follow up with the Environmental Protection Agency about visiting North Alabama to check out the problems.

"It's on our radar. That we're looking at it. I don't want the people to think that they're being ignored by my office," explained Jones.

Jones wants state regulators, Governor Kay Ivey, and Attorney General Steve Marshall to come up to Lawrence County to evaluate the situation. AG Marshall previously pledged to meet with WMEL water authority officials. Gov. Ivey has indicated that she was working with the AG, ADEM, and local officials to address the problem.

However, WMEL officials say a meeting with state officials has not yet been scheduled. We've reached out to the governor's office for an update on the situation. We have not received a response as of Thursday night.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office told us it has not had contact with WMEL leaders since Marshall responded on October 17 to the WMEL general manager.

Attorney Carl Cole, who represents the WMEL in its lawsuit against 3M, told WHNT News 19 he contacted the AG's office on October 19 to set up a meeting. Cole says he left a message but has not yet heard back.