Timeline of events surrounding 3M’s admission of illegal chemical release into Tennessee River

DECATUR, Ala. - A series of interesting events happened before and after 3M disclosed it failed to obey federal law by releasing certain manufacturing chemicals or the waste of those chemicals into the Tennessee River.

3M sent that disclosure letter in April. WHNT News 19 was told just weeks before the EPA may have been at 3M's plant in Decatur in mid-March. WHNT News 19 went through official channels at the EPA to find out if it happened. As of Thursday, the agency has been unable to confirm.

Here's what we do know:

  • March 28 - WHNT News 19 asked the EPA if a meeting took place at the 3M plant in Decatur.
  • April 2 - A public affairs specialist for EPA Region 4  responded to WHNT News 19, saying they weren't able to find any information concerning EPA involvement.
  • April 3 -  3M sent a letter to the EPA disclosing that it violated the Toxic Substances Control Act by releasing chemical FBSA into the Tennessee River.
    • The company notes it also may have released a similar chemical FBSEE.
  • April 3 - The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority general manager signed a settlement agreement with 3M.
    • The water authority received $28.5 million from 3M to settle its drinking water contamination lawsuit.
  • April 4 - 3M notified The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) that it violated the TSCA by releasing FBSA into the river.
  • June 14 - WHNT News 19 discovers 3M's letter reporting the illegal chemical release and reports it to the public.
  • June 19 - WHNT News 19 finds 3M reported its discharge of the chemical to ADEM for years.

3M reported to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that it was discharging chemicals that are illegal to put into water. But records show that the state of Alabama had been alerted for years and did not stop the continued release of the toxic chemical into the Tennessee River.

WHNT News 19 discovered that 3M disclosed on state discharge reports to ADEM that it was releasing chemical FBSA since at least 2014.

FBSA appears to have been listed as a chemical on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2009.  However, the state of Alabama appears to have made no adjustments to its laws or regulations regarding allowing the chemical in its water.

3M issued a statement to WHNT News 19 regarding the chemical release.

“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.”

WHNT News 19 has reached out to Alabama's federal lawmakers, including Senator Richard Shelby, Congressman Robert Aderholt, and Congressman Mo Brooks. The only federal lawmaker to respond was Senator Doug Jones.

"I have called for EPA and ADEM to investigate and take appropriate action about this in the past, and this additional revelation adds a new sense of urgency to my concerns." Jones said in a statement. "I remain committed to working with federal, state, and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of all Alabamians."

The EPA said it cannot comment any further due to an open investigation into the matter. WHNT News 19 is still working to learn more about the chemical release and what it means for residents in North Alabama.

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