3M admits to illegal chemical release in Tennessee River

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DECATUR, Ala. - The 3M Plant in Decatur failed to obey federal law by releasing certain chemicals or the waste of those chemicals into the Tennessee River.

The company admitted to the chemical release in an April letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter, which was sent by an attorney on behalf of 3M, says the plant in Decatur released the chemical FBSA into the Tennessee River. The company also notes that it may have also released a similar chemical, FBSEE, into the river.

The chemical manufacturing giant further admits releasing those specific chemicals into water violates the Toxic Substance Control Act.

The discovery of the release was apparently discovered during a 3M internal investigation. 3M tells the EPA it has stopped manufacturing operations for both chemicals due to concerns of further violating a federal consent order to not release them into the water.

A consent order with the EPA indicates the company is prohibited from releasing the chemicals because the agency is still working to determine if they pose a risk of injury to health or the environment.

3M released a statement to WHNT News 19 regarding the chemical releases.

“3M voluntarily reported to EPA and ADEM releases from our manufacturing processes that did not comply with the Toxic Substance Control Act. We shut down the identified manufacturing operations and are completing internal changes to fully address the issue. 3M takes seriously its environmental compliance obligations and is continuously assessing its performance against such obligations.”

The company also claims it is developing corrective actions to ensure such releases do not happen again.

The letter does not indicate how much or when the chemicals were released into the Tennessee River. These chemicals appear to be used as replacement versions of PFOAs and PFOS, which were used in the process to make Scotchgard and Teflon. The company stopped producing PFOA and PFOS in the early 2000s.

PFOS and PFOA are familiar chemicals to the Tennessee Valley after they were found in the West Morgan East Lawrence Drinking Water Authority water supply in 2016. 3M settled with the water authority in a federal drinking water contamination lawsuit in April for $35 million.

This is not the first time 3M has admitted to having discrepancies following state or federal regulations following the release of chemicals into the Tennessee River. 3M underreported to ADEM its discharge of chemicals into the Tennessee River from late 2012 to mid-2016.

Neither the EPA nor Alabama state regulators notified the public about these chemical releases. WHNT News 19 asked the EPA for more information and we're told the agency is working on our request.

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