$4 million settlement reached in drinking water lawsuit

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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. - A settlement for $4 million has been reached between the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and Daikin. The lawsuit was brought against Daikin and 3M over PFC chemicals the companies used to produce at their Decatur facilities.

Two years ago Lawrence County residents received a federal health advisory about their drinking water.  It contained high levels of PFOA and PFOS chemicals, according to the EPA.

The Authority urged their customers not to drink the water and the bottled water crisis of 2016 began. Nonprofits and churches gave away water as fast as it was donated.

Other area water companies, including Decatur Utilities and Hartselle Utilities, say their water has always been safe, and is subject to regular testing.

Eventually the "all clear" was given, but local doctors say that the health repercussions are still unknown. A future clinic in downtown Courtland will be a site for blood serum testing, to identify if residents have levels of toxic exposure. A Huntsville lab told WHNT News 19 in 2016 that testing for the PFOA chemical found in the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority drinking cost about $800 per test.

The research and associated battle continues over what's really in the Tennessee River. The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, which initially brought water contamination to the forefront, says their water is now safe, following the installation of a filtration system. The settlement money will be used to pay for the new granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system instead of passing the cost of the system along to the customers.

The Authority stated that "since coming online, the GAC filtration system has worked as expected and successfully removed the chemicals from the raw water pumped from the Tennessee River to the point that the finished drinking water is well below the advisory levels. Frequently, tests of the finished drinking water show non-detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS, the two chemicals at issue in the EPA warning."

The Authority still has claims against 3M and is seeking a permanent solution in the form of a reverse osmosis filtration system. “The GAC system is working well, but everyone understands that it is temporary. It was built quickly in response to the EPA advisory and the carbon wears out and has to be replaced. Long term, the permanent solution is a state of the art filtration system. That’s our goal and if litigation is unsuccessful, we will have to consider public funding,” said Don Sims.

The PFOA and PFOS chemicals are the subjects of the EPA advisory, however, there are similar chemicals in the PFC family that are currently unregulated. These next-generation PFC chemicals are in the Tennessee River and are being studied by scientists all over the world to determine the health effects. “Everything suggests these chemicals are harmful. We are just beginning to understand how seriously harmful," Carl Cole, one of the Authority’s lawyers said.

"Every single day that 3M fails to take responsibility for the chemicals that they put in our river, in our land, and in our bodies, they are telling the people of Lawrence and Morgan county that their lives don’t matter,” continued Cole. “They paid $850 million dollars in cash to the state of Minnesota, the home of 3M, but in Alabama, we are still waiting for 3M to do the right thing. It may take a jury to force them to do the right thing and we are committed to making that happen if necessary.”

Read the full settlement here: 

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