Attorneys said 3M lawsuit resolutions set stage for widespread chemical cleanup, monitoring in North Alabama

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DECATUR, Ala. – The Decatur City Council and Morgan County commission approved lawsuit settlements Tuesday evening tied to claims of PFAS chemical contamination by 3M and other companies.

The settlements were announced last week and include commitments by 3M of payments of $98 million to the governments and Decatur Utilities, widespread investigation and cleanup of both ground and water.

The PFAS chemicals are no longer made by 3M but were widely used in products like non-stick pans and Scotchgard for clothing and shoes. The chemicals don’t break down in water and have been linked to a number of health problems, including some cancers. Last week the Biden Administration announced a series of moves aimed at the future regulation of PFAS chemicals and eventual drinking water standards.

Lawyers who worked on the cases from various sides spoke at the public meeting in Decatur last night.

Read the details of the settlements.

Barney Lovelace, an attorney who has long represented Decatur and Morgan County in the 3M litigation, said the mediation process was especially uncommon. He said the judges in separate state and federal lawsuit against 3M asked the parties to negotiate all together in seeking a resolution. That process started in 2016, Lovelace told the assembled crowd Tuesday night.   

Part of the agreement 3M has made with Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities is to pay $98 million for cleanup, costs and a new recreation facility to replace the Aquadome in Decatur.

The first claims were filed more than a decade ago.

Lovelace said when he and his law firm began working on the initial case, his clients didn’t have any environmental liability insurance and the first goal was to insure Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities “didn’t face financial ruin.”

He outlined the other goals he and his firm had, “We wanted to make sure that all the property owned by the city and the county and DU was investigated and remediated for any contamination from PFAs,” Lovelace said. “And just as important the city and the county and DU wanted to make sure the environment in our community was taken care of and investigated for PFAS and remediated.”

The initial claims dating back to 2004 included a class of defendants in a case known as the St. John lawsuit. The lawsuit in state court focused on damage to property caused by PFAS chemicals.

The St. John lawsuit was part of the announced settlements last week.

Along with cleanup and monitoring of properties, Cells 2-11 of the Decatur Morgan County Regional Landfill with the aim of using modern technology to prevent PFAS tainted runoff.

The Tennesee Riverkeeper group sued 3M, Decatur, Morgan County and others in 2016. The group’s attorney Bill Matsikoudis also spoke Tuesday night. He said the lawsuit settlement didn’t involve any money for the group. Their focus, he said, was on Tennessee River cleanup. He outlined some of what the settlement will now require.

“There will be sampling of the soils, of the groundwater, of the surface water, of sediments, of fish,” Matsikoudis said. “They’re going to, 3M that is, inject dye into the groundwater and use technology and find out where it’s coming up in the river, so we understand how the groundwater plumes are taking us into the river, where it might be coming up through the sediment. To understand how the PFAs are impacting the water so we can come up with the solution to how to remediate this.”

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management also has a consent order in place, dating from 2020, that directs a broad range of 3M monitoring and cleanup work in Lawrence and Morgan Counties.

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