Sources: 3M reaches settlement with West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority in drinking water contamination case

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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. - WHNT News 19 has learned the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority has reached a settlement with 3M in its drinking water contamination lawsuit.

3M didn't confirm details but indicated it's working on an agreement with the water authority.

"We can confirm that we hope to finalize a resolution with WMEL shortly," a 3M spokesperson said in a statement. "We are actively working to finalize a resolution of this litigation. We look forward to announcing the outcome of those negotiations in the near future.”

Last year, the chemical manufacturing giant cut an $850 million check for water cleanup in Minnesota instead of going to trial. But it's not clear how much 3M is giving the West Morgan-East Lawrence water authority.

Attorney Carl Cole, who represents the water authority, wouldn't comment on specifics of the settlement but said a joint press release would be sent by both parties in the near future.

The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority was suing 3M to pay for a reverse osmosis system that would siphon out perfluorinated chemicals from the drinking water. Sources said customers won't have to pay for that system.

The Environmental Protection Agency lowered the guidance on the levels of perfluorinated compounds that would be safe for human consumption in May 2016. The water authority manager told the public back then the water was unsafe to drink because the level of the manufacturing chemicals found in the drinking water was above the EPA health advisory levels.

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, about 10 miles upstream from WMEL’s water treatment plant.

The non-profit water authority immediately installed a carbon filtration system to filter out those chemicals. The carbon system went online in late September 2016. Water authority officials say the current carbon system is a temporary fix.

A pre-application submitted to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) indicates the capital cost of a reverse osmosis system is as much as $43 million.

WMEL is aiming to break ground on the reverse osmosis system in October 2019 and have the system online in December 2020, according to its loan application.

There is no federal ban on PFOA and PFOS 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.

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