What’s in the Water? A look at where we’ve been, and how one state fought for their residents

I high shutter speed photo of a water droplet.

It’s a story we’ve been following since June of 2016 – What’s in the water? That’s when the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and West Lawrence Water Co-Op announced people should not drink the water because of dangerous chemicals.

Eventually the “all clear” was given, but some doctors say that the health repercussions are still unknown.

A $4 million settlement was reached between the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and Daikin.  The settlement money will be used to pay for the new granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system instead of passing the cost of the system along to the customers.

The Authority stated that “since coming online, the GAC filtration system has worked as expected and successfully removed the chemicals from the raw water pumped from the Tennessee River to the point that the finished drinking water is well below the advisory levels. Frequently, tests of the finished drinking water show non-detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS, the two chemicals at issue in the EPA warning.”

Look back on WHNT News 19’s complete coverage of  water concerns in the Tennessee Valley

The WHNT News 19 investigative team knows Lawrence County residents want safe water for their families.

The residents want big companies to stop dumping chemicals which end up in their drinking water.   They want their elected officials to stand up for them.   The folks of Lawrence County need answers.  We went to Cottage Grove, Minnesota to find them.

The state of Minnesota found the same chemicals in their water back in the early 2000s. The chemicals were produced by chemical manufacturing giant 3M, which is one of the companies accused of polluting our water here in Alabama.

A Different Approach

We wanted to know how and why Minnesota took a different approach.  Their officials told us it was not an easy task. They found there was not much information available, so they had to dig in.

We spoke with officials from the Minnesota Department of Public Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (the equivalent to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management), and elected officials in cities impacted by these chemicals.

The state of Minnesota worked aggressively to hold 3M accountable by filing a lawsuit and securing a nearly $1 billion settlement to clean up the drinking water. The health department even created separate drinking water standards for the chemicals because of the danger they pose.

Tuesday, watch WHNT News 19 beginning at 6AM as we explain how another state made it a priority to protect its people and their drinking water in our Taking Action Investigation.

Meanwhile, on a national level, the Environmental Protection Agency announced recently that it will move ahead this year with a process that could lead to setting a safety threshold for a group of highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the immediate focus would be on two of the most common chemicals in the group, both of which have been phased out by manufacturers but remain in the environment and have suspected links to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility.

By the end of this year, the EPA will “propose a regulatory determination” for the chemicals, which is the next step toward establishing limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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