Decatur City Schools intends to sue 3M over chemicals on Brookhaven Middle School property

DECATUR, Ala. – The Decatur City School (DCS) system has announced its intent to sue 3M over high levels of PFAS chemicals found at the former Brookhaven Middle School property. The school system says it is seeking clean up of hazardous waste and removal of PFOA and PFOS chemicals in the soil, groundwater and surface water at the Brookhaven site.

Lawyers representing DCS sent a 60-day-notice letter to 3M representatives, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) less than two weeks after it was made public that PFAS chemicals were on the former school site.

WHNT News 19 obtained the letter that says DCS intends to “sue for abatement of an imminent or substantial endangerment of health and the environment in connection with contamination caused by illegal dumping.”

3M produced the chemicals in question for decades at its Decatur plant. The chemicals were manufactured to make products like Scotchgard.

The letter references human health risks caused by exposure to the manufacturing chemicals, including cancer, immunotoxicity, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and high cholesterol.

DCS claims it was unaware of “3M’s hazardous materials” on the property when it was purchased or that the property was used as a hazardous industrial site.

The letter says the school board apparently first learned that “3M’s hazardous materials” were possibly contaminating the Brookhaven property in 2018, the same year the school shut down.

Before the school was built on it, the property served as a landfill from 1944 to 1964.

Federal environmental regulators monitored the Brookhaven property in the 1980s, later deciding it should not be considered for SuperFund cleanup status. State regulators oversaw it in the ’90s and released it from regular environmental testing in the early 2000s.

It’s one of three old landfills the City of Decatur asked 3M in July to investigate.

Preliminary screenings through the contractor hired by 3M were released in November 2019. The study found high levels of 3M’s PFAS chemicals on the Brookhaven property.

The only EPA advisory for the chemicals is related to drinking water. An EPA advisory is issued if more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS chemicals are found in drinking water.

Preliminary results from the Brookhaven/Aquadome property from July and August 2019 show PFOS levels as high as 3,770 parts per trillion. That is more than 50 times the amount of the current federal drinking water guidelines.

The Decatur City School System and legal counsel representing the school board released a statement to WHNT News 19 on Sunday.

“A RCRA letter is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.  It doesn’t necessarily mean one will be filed.  Hopefully, it won’t be necessary.  Decatur City Schools are handling this the right way and intend to be proactive. The hiring of these attorneys that navigated the process for WMEL Water Authority is a clear signal of how seriously DCS is taking this matter.”

3M released a statement to WHNT News 19 on Sunday night.

“3M lawfully disposed of waste at the former Brookhaven landfill. We have publicly shared that we are investigating Brookhaven and certain other closed waste disposal sites in Morgan and Lawrence Counties, and we will work with ADEM to ensure these sites are treated according to 21st century waste management standards, as necessary.”

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