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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) announced Friday due to a consent order, 3M is required to clean up what ADEM calls ‘forever chemicals’ from its Decatur plant and a number of waste sites across Morgan and Lawrence counties.

According to ADEM, 3M must also put in place systems to monitor, test and research impacts of exposure to those compounds.

ADEM called the interim consent agreement the “most far reaching and significant enforcement action to date taken in regard to PFAS in the country,” arguing that the agreement will require 3M’s Decatur plant to take remedial action, effective immediately, including the installation of new water and air control systems, and further assessment of waste sites containing PFAS chemicals.

David Whiteside of Tennessee Riverkeeper said the order is a single step in the right direction.

“Tennessee Riverkeeper’s goal is to get this pollutant, these PFAS chemicals cleaned up from Morgan County, Lawrence County and the Wheeler Reservoir of the Tennessee River,” he said.

ADEM clarified the consent order also addresses air, groundwater and surface water pollutants. The agency did not specify whether that pertained to the Tennessee River, which is mentioned in ongoing litigation involving Whiteside’s organization against 3M.

Whiteside said he hopes 3M holds up its end of the consent agreement, but thinks its hard to hold the company accountable for things you can’t see.

“3M is the only one, and maybe ADEM, that actually know whats going on behind those fences and security gates of 3M,” he said. “So we have to take their word for it. And they’ve caused a lot of problems with these chemicals in Morgan County and Lawrence County. It’s hard to take their word for it at full value.”

In a press release, 3M said under the oversight of ADEM, it is committed to fulfilling the obligations mentioned in the order including:

  • Designing and installing treatment technologies to help remove PFAS from plant wastewater entering the environment
  • Working to minimize the Decatur plant’s water consumption
  • Investigating and performing appropriate remediation of legacy contamination at dumpsites where materials from 3M have been located.

The City of Decatur is currently involved in litigation with 3M. Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling issued a statement about the consent order:

“I am in favor of anything that improves the Decatur environment, and I commend ADEM and 3M for securing this consent order. The fact there is a plan and an enforceable commitment to clean up the sites and prevent further contamination is good news for the city.  I look forward to studying the order in more detail and working with ADEM and 3M to take these important steps that will enhance our community.”

Mayor Tab Bowling, City of Decatur

According to ADEM, penalties will be addressed with increasing severity if any 3M obligations are not met within required time frames.