An investigation by WHNT News 19 is shedding light on what the state of Alabama knew and how it permitted 3M's plant in Decatur to violate the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Discharge reports submitted to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) indicate 3M reported discharging toxic chemical FBSA into the Tennessee River since at least 2014.
FBSA is a short chain PFAS chemical. It is used to make products like Scotchgard and Teflon. The EPA is still researching and studying what the potential health and environmental effects of the chemical may be.
"We've always had a lot of questions regarding short chain PFAS alternatives and now we have even more questions for 3M," explained Tennessee Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside.
Whiteside knows 3M and its chemicals well. His nonprofit group is currently in a legal battle with the chemical manufacturing giant to clean up similar types of chemicals it released in the Tennessee River.
"Ultimately resolving these complicated pollution problems, one of the best things we can do is shine a spotlight on there. We also need the state regulatory agencies to shine that spotlight too, but unfortunately, they seem to be more interested in keeping this problem in the dark than to educate the public about what's going on," said Whiteside.
Alabama's junior Senator Doug Jones told WHNT News 19 his concern with our discovery of the toxic chemical releases is how the public was notified. ADEM explained that the EPA has regulatory authority over the issue and is the agency that would deal with public notification.
Jones is calling on environmental regulators to take action and get the bottom what happened and why.
"It shouldn't take the media," Jones said. "This needs to be something that everybody makes sure they are aware of, and ADEM and EPA need to get on this and make sure that that water is safe."
In North Alabama, the public is desperate for answers, and environmentalists hope this revelation brings new urgency for regulators to stand up to companies who break the rules.
"It really comes down to a simple lesson that we all should have learned in kindergarten and that is if you make a mess in your room you got to clean it up," Whitesaid said. "And unfortunately, 3M either never learned that lesson or they've forgotten it and they've made a mess of their room in Decatur, Alabama, and we expect them to fully clean it up."
3M issued a statement to WHNT News 19 regarding the situation.
“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.”