DECATUR, Ala. - 3M is working to determine if former waste disposal sites may contain potentially dangerous PFAS chemicals. Now, the company has announced the next phase of analysis which will include the assessment of closed waste disposal sites of Brookhaven, Deer Springs and Old Moulton Road/Mud Tavern. This is happening at the request of Decatur City and Morgan County officials.
The chemicals have been much in the news recently. The company reached a $35 million settlement with the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority earlier this year. The authority had sued 3M in the fall of 2015 alleging the company had contaminated its drinking water with perfluorinated chemicals, PFAS and PFOS.
In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the guidance on the levels of perfluorinated compounds that would be safe for human consumption. After the EPA changed its guidance, the general manager of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority told customers not to drink the water because the levels of perfluorinated chemicals PFOA and PFOS found in the water supply were considered unhealthy by the federal government.
The settlement money will be used to help pay for a reverse osmosis filtration system, that water authority officials say, will filter out the chemicals from WMEL customers' drinking water.
3M made the chemicals for decades at its Decatur plant. The state permitted the company to release the chemical residue into the Tennessee River and it allowed sludge from the plant, containing the chemicals, to be taken to landfills and used at area farms.
3M says all of the disposal locations date back to the 1950s and were "closed in accordance with the best practices in place at the time." It says they were actively monitored by government regulatory agencies for compliance with landfill closure regulations. Each site was released by regulators from monitoring in the 1990s.
The company says it will work closely with the city, county and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
“At 3M, we know we have a responsibility to this community, and our leadership is serious about continuing to address any remaining PFAS concerns here,” said Robin Higgs, 3M’s former Decatur site manager, and current Film and Materials Resource Division director. “While we are confident that we followed all existing laws and regulations when we delivered waste materials to these landfills decades ago, we are committed to working with the city, county and government regulators to take appropriate steps to investigate these landfills and make sure they are maintained in a safe condition. If there are any PFAS-related issues with the sites, we will find and fix them.”
Decatur City Response
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling released a statement Monday afternoon on the upcoming evaluation of the former landfills. In it, he says that city officials and Morgan County officials prompted the assessment as part of their commitment to keeping their citizens and environment safe.
Officials with the City of Decatur and Morgan County say they expect to announce soon a plan of action to address the presence of these chemicals in the current Decatur-Morgan County Landfill.
City leaders have also consulted with State Health Officer Scott Harris, with the Alabama Department of Public Health who issued this statement with respect to potential exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). ADPH has not received any reports of any health hazards associated with people at Brookhaven or the Aquadome,” stated Harris. He continued, "Swallowing or dermal contact with PFAS-containing surface water through recreational activities (swimming, water sports, etc.) are not expected to cause harm to human health. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), dermal exposure is slow and does not result in significant absorption of PFAS. ATSDR has observed, ‘Studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through your skin; therefore, showering and bathing in water containing PFAS should not increase exposure. Washing dishes in water containing PFAS should not increase exposure.’ The Alabama Department of Public Health continues to monitor updates from the Environmental Protection Agency and ATSDR and makes recommendations based on new information as it becomes available."
Bowling says he, and other community leaders, will continue to use "advances in technology and knowledge to identify ways to improve the community in order to keep our citizens safe."
Decatur Utilities Response
Within minutes of 3M's announcement about the new test locations, Decatur Utilities sent out a statement assuring DU customers of water safety. It reads:
Decatur Utilities (DU) has been made aware of an investigative effort by 3M to determine the level of Perfluorinated compounds, specifically PFOA and PFOS, which may be present at three former landfill sites in Morgan County.
DU wishes to remind all Decatur residents that their DU drinking water is completely safe and meets or exceeds all state and federal regulatory standards. Tests for these chemicals in our water supply have been non-detect, or at near non-detectable levels. The highest value in any recent test was less than 5 parts per trillion combined level for both chemicals, which is near the minimum detection levels.
Customers of DU can rest assured that the City of Decatur's drinking water is safe and continues to be recognized for outstanding quality. DU's Water Treatment Plant has been recognized as optimized by the Drinking Water Branch of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Safe Drinking Water Program for five consecutive years. This means DU has reached a level of performance that exceeds the requirements established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
DU takes great pride in the quality of water provided to our retail and resale customers and we want to ensure all customers can have great confidence in its safety.
A copy of DU's current and past Water Quality Reports are available on the DU website at www.decaturutilities.com/water. If you have any questions regarding your water quality, please don't hesitate to call us at 256-552-1400.
David Whiteside, who is the founder and executive director of Tennessee Riverkeeper released the following statement:
Tennessee Riverkeeper is glad 3M is accepting some responsibility and will start testing these landfills for PFAS pollution. The 3M Company should have been doing this all along, whether voluntarily or forced by the state. Riverkeeper hopes 3M will be testing for their full range of PFAS pollution, including PFOS and PFOA and the various short chain replacement chemicals that they have been polluting as well.
Tennessee Riverkeeper also hopes that the 3M Company will continue to identify other sites whether they be legal landfills or dump sites which may not have been legal even at that time. Some illegal dump sites have been recently discovered. There may be more that have not yet been discovered or revealed.
3M previously produced PFOA and PFOS, two compounds within a broad class of organic molecules commonly known as PFAS, in its Decatur plant. In 2000, the company announced it was voluntarily stopping production of PFOA and PFOS.
For reference, one part per trillion is the equivalent of one square inch in 250 square miles OR one second in nearly 32,000 years OR one ounce in 7.5 billion gallons of water.
As a reminder, while not a regulatory limit, the EPA health advisory for lifetime consumption was established at 70 parts per trillion. All compounds in this family of chemicals continue to be studied by EPA; however, they are all currently unregulated.
For more information about PFAS, we invite you to visit www.pfasfacts.com.