Trial date set in West Morgan East Lawrence drinking water contamination case against 3M

DECATUR, Ala. – A trial date has been set in West Morgan East Lawrence water authority’s drinking water contamination case against 3M. A federal judge issued an order for the trial to begin on October 19, 2020, at the federal courthouse in Decatur.

The WMEL water authority is suing chemical manufacturing giant 3M to pay for an advanced filtration system that would siphon out perfluorinated chemicals from the drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency lowered the guidance on the levels of perfluorinated compounds that would be safe for human consumption in May 2016. The EPA issued a health advisory after above-recommended levels were found in the drinking water supplied by the East Lawrence West Morgan water authority.

The PFC compounds found in the WMEL water supply are PFOA and PFOS. PFOA and PFOS are used in manufacturing products like Teflon and Scotchgard. 3M produced PFOA and PFOS at its plant in Decatur, 10 miles upstream from WMEL’s water treatment plant.

There is no federal ban on the chemicals. The State of Alabama has an agreement with 3M to try and clean up chemicals at the plant site, but there is no state limit on how much of the chemicals the company can discharge from the plant into the Tennessee River.

The WMEL water authority installed a carbon filtration system in October 2016. The carbon filtration system is expected to filter out PFOA and PFOS chemicals. 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. The WMEL manager has previously told WHNT News 19 the reverse osmosis is a more advanced system to capture other industrial pollutants in water.

In an application submitted to Alabama environmental regulators, the water authority indicates the capital cost of the reverse osmosis could be up to $43 million. The water authority also says a reverse osmosis system is $29 million cheaper over a 20-year-span than the current granular carbon filtration system. The application also notes the cost of running a reverse osmosis system is about $1.3 to $1.8 million cheaper in annual operation costs.

The court estimates the trial will take 15 days. However, the case may never make it to trial. The scheduling order indicates the judge will refer the water authority and 3M to mediation for nearly a year starting on November 30, 2019, up until the trial date.

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