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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — A long-running lawsuit against 3M is near resolution and involves more than 400,000 residents in six North Alabama counties.

But it’s not clear how many residents are aware of the settlement terms, which generally bar most future claims against 3M, unless a class member actively opts out by March 17.

Personal injury claims are not barred by joining the settlement, but property damage, punitive damage and other actions will be barred if the settlement is approved at a hearing in Morgan County Circuit Court on April 21.

The case dates back to 2002 with a group of plaintiffs in the case, St. John vs. 3M. Leon Ashford, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the case at one point focused on 3M plant worker health, but those claims were tossed by the judge more than a decade ago.

The settlement that has been reached is part of a global agreement that includes the federal Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit against 3M and other chemical makers.

3M produced PFAs chemicals for years at its Decatur plant. The chemicals don’t break down in water and have been linked to a number of health conditions. The settlements focus on cleanup efforts 3M is to undertake in locations where PFAs waste was dumped by the company over decades.

3M is also under a consent decree with the State of Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management, which established far-reaching cleanup requirements for the company. That agreement was reached in July 2020.

The 3M lawsuit settlement reached last October includes an agreement by the company to pay for new ball fields in Decatur, to spend millions to clean up North Alabama properties contaminated by its chemicals and resolve a class-action claim for residents. The full settlement with Decatur can be read on the city’s website.

For more information on the case and how the settlement will work, click here. For questions about the settlement, click here. To read the full settlement, click here.

Across North Alabama, it includes people in Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, and Morgan counties.

440,000 people are identified in the class action. You may have received a postcard or email, telling you about the settlement. In this case, it pays to read the fine print.

Attorney Leon Ashford has been working on the 3M lawsuit since 2002. It’s near resolution.

“As property owners or persons who have leased property in the past, or lease property now, they all have potential claims for contamination to that property by PFAS,” said Ashford.

The postcards have gone out, but Lawrence County resident Brenda Hampton, who’s been trying to raise alarms about PFAS for years, says people don’t necessarily know what it all means.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook about these lawsuits,” Hampton told News 19. “But the funny thing is, I think I told the people, I think my letter should have been the first one to come out the box, but I don’t have one.”

With the cards, a lot of people don’t understand if they should sign for it or it would knock them out.

The settlement includes around 5,000 acres in the region that have had sludge applied on them. Those property owners are due $1,000 per acre.

Ashford warns people not to look for any additional payment in the current settlement, stating, “an ordinary citizen who owns a house or rents a house or has an acre of land is not going to be receiving any compensation in this settlement.”

“We are going to try and re-mediate the PFAS problem so there never is any drop in value in those six counties for the PFAS that’s already there,” Ashford continued.

If you believe you have a claim for property damages or other damages, you only have until March 17 to opt-out of the settlement to pursue your own claims. A court will consider those arguments at a final settlement approval hearing set for April 21.

Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel, who isn’t involved in the lawsuit, said residents need to consider their options now.

“I think we’re talking about from April 21, 2003, to December 17th, 2021, that’s your dates you’re looking at there,” McDaniel told News 19. “Anybody who worked in this area, had an ownership possessory interest, had a business anything, you’re in that class.

News 19 asked McDaniel to clarify the fine print. He stated, “If you’re going to start carving out, I’d talk to a lawyer about my statute of limitations problem and my remedies problem, I would talk to my lawyer about that, soon.”

Ashford said if people think they have a problem with PFAS contamination, they should reach out and he says the settlement will have an impact.

“We are bringing 440,000 people along with us, to a resolution with think is good for the environment, and all of the counties in North Alabama, this is not a coupon settlement, this is not a token settlement, this is not paying the residents up there a dollar to make them go away,” Ashford stated. “This is a settlement that recognizes the profound impact that these chemicals have, and we’re trying to do something about it in the future.”