DECATUR, Ala. — A major milestone was reached for residents of Morgan County and Decatur Tuesday. The Morgan County Commission and Decatur City Council approved lawsuit settlements with 3M and the Tennessee Riverkeeper in long-running litigation over chemical contamination cleanup.
Among the key details in the settlement, 3M has agreed to pay millions to cap several Decatur Utilities landfills. The company will also pay $35 million for a new recreation center and ball fields to replace the Aquadome in Decatur.
3M also agreed to pay Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities $25 million, and $9 million for past PFAS costs.
“Through these agreements, subject to final approval, 3M will support activities to address PFAS that 3M manufactured or disposed of, as well as to enhance the quality of life for Decatur residents,” 3M said on Tuesday. “3M’s contribution to the total amount is reflected in the company’s previously disclosed financial reserves for litigation contingent liabilities.”
“We appreciate the importance of our relationship with our neighbors in Decatur,” said Michelle Howell, Decatur Site Director. “Through this agreement, we can resolve these matters and take action that will strengthen Decatur for the future – a great thing for 3M and this community. We will continue to take collaborative action for communities where we live and work, our employees, and their friends and families.”
A chemical contamination lawsuit was originally filed by a group of plaintiffs in 2004, according to court records. The news release said mediation between the St. John plaintiffs was combined with the Decatur and Morgan claims and has resulted in a $98 million settlement for Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities, according to the City of Decatur’s news release.
Decatur says the government’s claims were included in the St. John plaintiff’s mediation with 3M and the other companies.
The Decatur news release outlined the terms of the settlement:
- $9.2 Million Reimbursement for past PFAS costs
- $7.0 Million for Future sludge disposal costs for Decatur Utilities
- $25.0 Million Payment to Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities
- $22.2 Million Payment to cap Cells 2-11 of the Decatur Morgan County Regional Landfill (DMCRL)
- $35.0 Million for a New recreational facility and ball fields to replace the Aquadome complex
The other parties listed in the settlement include Daikin, Toray, BFI, and Synagro.
The settlement also involves cleanup costs related to PFAS chemicals produced by 3M for decades at its Decatur plant. Those terms include: require 3M to “pay the entire cost to investigate the extent, if any, of contamination of PFAS in groundwater at the Decatur Morgan County Regional Landfill; to treat groundwater contaminated with PFAS at DMCRL, if required by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM); and for any remediation work related to contamination by PFAS required by ADEM or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the City of Decatur’s three closed landfill sites,” the new release said.
Decatur May Tab Bowling commented on the settlement.
“I appreciate the work of all parties to bring these lawsuits to a close. We are ready now to look to the future,” Bowling said. “3M has long been an involved corporate citizen here and we appreciate how they’ve stepped up to help remedy issues related to chemicals no longer produced in the U.S. This settlement will fund improvements that will make the environment in Decatur and Morgan County healthier. We are pleased that 3M is funding the development of a replacement rec center that adds a quality of life benefit for the whole city.”
The Riverkeeper statement read:
“Tennessee Riverkeeper, Inc. has reached a settlement with 3M and several other companies that the Riverkeeper accused of causing PFAS contamination in northern Alabama. Under the agreement, those companies will abate potential threats to people and the environment created by their disposal of PFAS. In 2016, the Riverkeeper sued the companies in federal court to force them to clean up the so-called “forever chemicals.” The case has been in mediation for the past three years. The settlement creates a process by which investigations will inform what remediation is necessary to improve the environmental health of the Tennessee River, and to ensure that residents can safely use the River for recreation, eat its fish and drink its water. The settlement is thus just a start: Important decisions and work to remediate PFAS will take place in the future, and the settlement provides the Tennessee Riverkeeper with a voice in the selection of remedial options and a meaningful seat at the table to ensure that appropriate steps to address PFAS are taken.”
Riverkeeper was represented by in house counsel Mark Martin and the law firm of Matsikoudis & Fanciullo
A statement from counsel on behalf of the St. John Plaintiffs read:
“Twenty years ago, our law firm first learned of the health and environmental concerns associated with PFOS and PFOA, and the presence of these and other PFAS chemicals in the environment around Decatur, Alabama. Since that time, with the invaluable assistance of some of the most qualified scientific experts in the world, our firm has worked toward the goal of implementing scientifically sound actions to address PFAS. Understanding always that our goals could not be reached without the authority of ADEM, EPA, and Alabama Attorney General, Steve Marshall, we have worked diligently for many years with 3M, Daikin, Toray, Synagro, Decatur Utilities, the City of Decatur, and Morgan County to reduce the PFAS footprint through remediation which has already occurred. We look forward to participating in future remediation efforts which will be guided by investigations and evaluations the defendants will perform at their plant sites, and other off-site areas identified in the settlement.”
In its news release Tuesday, 3M didn’t spell out the costs associated with the settlements. The company did say “3M’s contribution to the total amount is reflected in the company’s previously disclosed financial reserves for litigation contingent liabilities.”
The following was included in 3M’s most recent quarterly earnings report, filed on July 27:
“The Company periodically examines whether the contingent liabilities related to the environmental matters and litigation described above are probable and reasonably estimable based on experience and developments in those matters. During the first six months ended June 30, 2021, as a result of recent developments in ongoing environmental matters and litigation, the Company increased its accrual for PFAS-related other environmental liabilities by $112 million and made related payments of $35 million. As of June 30, 2021, the Company had recorded liabilities of $493 million for “other environmental liabilities.” The accruals represent the Company’s best estimate of the probable loss in connection with the environmental matters and PFAS-related litigations described above. The Company is not able to estimate a possible loss or range of possible loss in excess of the established accruals at this time.”