HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit against 3M, Decatur and Morgan County and other chemical makers is approaching the court-ordered final mediation deadline, but it is not clear if the deadline will be met.
The parties conferred out of public view with U.S. District Judge Liles Burke Tuesday. Following that discussion, there was no public announcement of a settlement.
The lawsuit filed in 2016 alleges 3M and other chemical makers in the Decatur area contaminated the Tennessee River with PFAs chemicals produced at their sites. The lawsuit seeks an order directing cleanup efforts for the river.
On June 21, Burke set a Sept. 15 deadline for resolving the case and ordered the parties to prepare an evidence discovery plan – with an eye toward going to trial – if the date is not reached.
During that June hearing, lawyers for 3M and the Tennessee Riverkeeper told the court they were close to a resolution.
But attorneys for Decatur and Morgan County said an early September settlement was not realistic. The two governments are defendants in the case along with 3M, but their attorneys say they have their own issues with 3M to resolve.
David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper told News 19, “The conference this morning was all about the possible timetable for a settlement between 3M and the City of Decatur and did not affect the Tennessee Riverkeeper’s case.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper continues to work toward the best outcome for the public.”
Through a spokesman 3M told News 19, “We continue to engage in mediation negotiations. As these negotiations are ongoing, we are unable to provide additional comment.”
Barney Lovelace, an attorney for Decatur and Morgan County, cited the confidentiality of the mediation process in declining a request for comment.
The listed defendants in the case include: 3M, BFI Waste Systems of Alabama, the City of Decatur, the Municipal Utilities Board of Decatur, Morgan County, Daikin America Inc., Dyneon LLC and Toray Fluorofibers (America) Inc.
Last year, 3M and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management entered a consent order requiring 3M to do cleanup at chemically contaminated properties in Morgan and Lawrence counties.
PFAs chemicals have been described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down over time. They are used to create barriers to liquids and oils and have been linked to a number of health conditions.
There is a federal lifetime health advisory for drinking water for some PFAS chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — but no other federal regulations have been established.
The EPA has started a process to determine a chemical classification for PFAS and related chemicals. A number of bills in the current Congress also call for PFAS regulation. A measure that passed the U.S. House in June calls for the EPA to set national drinking water standards for PFAS.