Tennessee River supplies drinking water to hundreds of thousands

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DECATUR, Ala.-  3M's admission of illegally releasing chemicals into the Tennessee River and the state of Alabama's role in those releases is an important story for several reasons. But perhaps the part of the story that you likely care most about is how it may impact your drinking water.

The Tennessee River is a major drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of north Alabama residents. The river flows northwest through the Tennessee Valley.

Multiple water utility providers are downstream from the Decatur area where the 3M plant is located. Those wastewater plants pull some or all of their water from the Tennessee River before treating it.

Those drinking water providers are:

  • West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority
  • Florence Utilities
  • Colbert County Water Department
  • Muscle Shoals Utilities

Some of these downstream water treatment plants pull straight from the river, others pull from lakes or reservoirs off of the Tennessee River.

Some of the downstream utilities only use the river as part of its source for drinking water. They also may use groundwater or another source as well.

The Tennessee River is a partial drinking water source for other areas with large populations like Huntsville, Decatur, and Guntersville. However, those treatment plants draw their water upstream, getting it miles before it reaches the industries in the Decatur area.

There are no state regulations regarding putting chemical FBSA into the river, which 3M admitted to in April. However, under the Toxic Substances Control Act it is illegal to release FBSA into US waterways.

Scientists are still working to determine if there are potential human health effects of the consumption of FBSA.

It appears that at this time all drinking water in the Tennessee Valley is up to federal and state drinking water standards.

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