3M to halt production of some chemicals at Decatur plant

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DECATUR, Ala. --  The 3M plant in Decatur said Thursday it is halting some manufacturing processes. This announcement comes months after the company said it would stop the manufacturing of some perfluorinated chemicals amid a federal investigation.

3M said it told employees, state and federal regulators about the recent manufacturing change this week. However, it's not clear what manufacturing processes are being put on hold.

"The people in Decatur and downstream in West Morgan and East Lawrence deserve better answers. There is not value to the word temporarily. Does that mean three hours or three years? They are not even telling us what the manufacturing processes are," says Tennessee Riverkeeper Founder David Whiteside.

3M released this statement to WHNT News 19 on Thursday morning:

“3M takes seriously its environmental compliance obligations and continuously assesses its performance against those obligations and the Company’s commitment to environmental stewardship. While we continue to work with the EPA and ADEM on previously disclosed issues, we have elected to temporarily idle certain manufacturing processes. We will resume these processes as soon as practicable.”

3M also said at this time it does not intend to lay off employees due to the manufacturing halt. The plant will shift responsibilities and roles for the impacted employees.

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WHNT News 19 asked 3M Thursday to clarify what chemicals would be affected by the idling decision.

A company spokeswoman said, "We have elected to temporarily idle certain manufacturing processes related to our fluoropolymer manufacturing at 3M Decatur. This is part of our ongoing work with EPA and ADEM to address compliance matters at this facility."

Fluoropolymers are the chemicals resistant to liquid and other materials that 3M produces for a number of its products.

The announcement follows a series of reports of problems with 3M discharging chemicals into the Tennessee River.

The company settled with the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority for $35 million in a drinking water contamination case in April. The water authority is planning to install a reverse osmosis system to clean the drinking water. Officials say it will be online by the beginning of 2021.

In April, 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 for nearly a decade. FBSA was 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.

The public wasn't notified of the illegal releases until WHNT News 19 found the letter in June.

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