Water treatment facility funded with 3M settlement money opens in Lawrence County

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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. – Residents in Lawrence and Morgan Counties will soon have some of the cleanest drinking water in the country.

The West Morgan – East Lawrence Water Authority announced its advanced filtration system is anticipated to be fully up and running by the end of business Tuesday. The system was largely funded by a $35 million settlement that 3M paid WMEL to settle a drinking water contamination lawsuit in 2019. 

WMEL officials told News 19 the system — a reverse osmosis treatment plant — will filter out all forms of PFAS chemicals.

“The startup of the RO plant represents a new day for the WMEL,” said Jeaneice Slater, WMEL’s current General Manager. “Our customers can be confident that the quality of their drinking water will meet current and future requirements.”

3M in Decatur produced the chemicals in question for decades. The company discharged them into the Tennessee River about 10 miles upstream of WMEL’s water intake. 

The Environmental Protection Agency says reverse osmosis is the most effective method for removing the chemicals in question from the drinking water. The water authority underwent a pilot process with the system in 2018.

“Reverse osmosis, also known as RO, is a process that pumps water under high pressure through membranes at our facility to remove impurities,” said West Morgan – East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority officials in a statement. “As a result, the JD Sims – RM Hames Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Facility is specifically designed to address the past health advisories, meet current water treatment challenges, and ensure compliance with drinking water regulations that are anticipated in the future.”

WMEL sent a letter to every customer account and created an information page on its website to provide customers with important details about the facility and reverse osmosis treatment process and answers to frequently asked questions. Customers can also contact WMEL’s Water Quality staff by emailing them at wmelwtp@hiwaay.net.

Watch a video on reverse osmosis below:

WMEL’s former general manager, Don Sims issued a ‘do not drink’ advisory in 2016 after the EPA reported it found in the WMEL drinking water, levels of the chemicals beyond the levels it recommends for a lifetime health advisory.

Sims faced pushback from some public officials for issuing the advisory at the time. He continued to push for clean drinking water for three years in a lawsuit against 3M. The new reverse osmosis treatment plant will be named the JD Sims-RM Hames Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment facility after him. 

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