3M settles North Alabama drinking water contamination lawsuit
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala.- 3M and the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority have officially announced a settlement agreement in a drinking water contamination lawsuit. WHNT News 19 first reported on the agreement in early April.
In a joint statement released Friday morning, the chemical manufacturing giant and non-profit water authority said the money will be used to install an advanced drinking water filtration system.
The statement reads:
“3M Company, Inc. (3M) and West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority (WMEL) are pleased to announce that they have settled the lawsuit between them in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Both parties are grateful for the cooperation and work that has gone into getting this settlement finalized.
“This settlement will allow for a new filtration system at WMEL. WMEL will continue to supply safe drinking water that meets all applicable PFAS guidelines without passing on any additional construction or treatment costs-a great thing for WMEL and its customers in Morgan and Lawrence Counties
“This settlement pertains only to the lawsuit between WMEL and 3M. Now that the litigation between WMEL and 3M is concluded, neither 3M nor WMEL will make any further statements.”
In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the guidance on the levels of perfluorinated compounds that would be safe for human consumption. After the EPA changed its guidance, the general manager of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority told customers not to drink the water because the levels of perfluorinated chemicals PFOA and PFOS found in the water supply were considered unhealthy by the federal government.
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 have previously told WHNT News 19 the current carbon system is a temporary fix.
The water authority plans to build is a reverse osmosis system. The advanced filtration system could cost as much as $43 million, according to information submitted to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. WMEL is aiming to break ground on the reverse osmosis system in October 2019 and have the system online in December 2020.
3M produced PFOA and PFOS at its plant in Decatur, about 10 miles upstream from WMEL’s water treatment plant. The company began producing the chemicals as early as the 1950s and says they were phased out in the early 2000s. The Decatur site has been open since 1961. 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.
The settlement announcement comes one day after the chemical manufacturing giant announced it will cut 2,000 jobs. In 3M’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Thursday, the company indicated it had established a $235 million reserve to cover environmental litigation related to the manufacturing and disposal of perfluorinated chemicals at five of its facilities, including its Decatur.
In 2018, 3M cut an $850 million check for drinking water cleanup in its lawsuit with the state of Minnesota instead of going to trial. It’s not clear how much 3M is giving the West Morgan-East Lawrence water authority.
WHNT News 19 filed an official request with the water authority for the full details of the settlement agreement on April 5. The attorney who represents the water authority board told WHNT News 19 they would send the information when it’s no longer in draft form.