Read the full article by Kelley Smith, Brian Lawson
“DECATUR, Ala. — The discovery of PFAS chemical contamination at Decatur’s former Brookhaven Middle School led the board of education to threaten to sue 3M in December. The property was sold by the school board to 3M in May for $1.25 million.
But the Decatur-owned Aquadome Recreation Center, which sits right next to Brookhaven, wasn’t sold.
The difference highlights a dilemma.
The City of Decatur and 3M are involved, as co-defendants in lawsuits involving 3M chemicals, but some Decatur officials are arguing the company should pay to clean up the chemicals in Decatur. And, they say, Decatur should consider joining plaintiffs suing 3M, rather than sitting on the same side of the courtroom as the Minnesota-based corporate giant.
Brookhaven Middle School was opened in 1971 and closed in 2018. The City of Decatur said it was built on an old landfill and it asked 3M to investigate in July of 2019. Three former landfills in Decatur and Morgan County were found to contain high levels of PFAS and other chemicals.
3M made PFAS chemicals for decades at its Decatur plant. They stopped making the chemicals PFOA and PFOS — which were used to create water- and stain-resistant products — around 2002. The company still produces similar chemicals. The PFOA and PFOS chemicals don’t break down in water and can lodge in the human body. In May 2016 the EPA issued a lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
The EPA said it is working on regulations for PFAS chemicals, but currently the health advisory is the only federal guidance. There are no regulations for PFAS found in the ground, like at Brookhaven. The chemicals have been linked to a number of health problems, including some cancers.
3M has a consent decree with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to clean up PFAS chemicals found at its plant. The company paid the State of Minnesota $850 million in 2018 to resolve PFAS-contamination claims.
3M also paid the West-Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority $35 million in April 2019, to settle claims the company’s chemicals contaminated residents’ drinking water.
3M, Decatur Utilities and the City of Decatur are co-defendants in two lawsuits that accuse the company of polluting the Tennessee River with the PFAS chemicals. Those cases are in mediation.
Barney Lovelace, an attorney representing the City of Decatur in the 3M lawsuits issued a statement to WHNT News 19 that addresses the litigation, and some city council members called for Decatur to take action over the contamination and efforts to protect the government from liability if there are any PFAS laws or regulations developed.
‘On behalf of the City, County and DU we are pursuing claims in that mediation which relate to the Decatur-Morgan County Regional Landfill, expenses incurred by DU relating to PFAS, the presence of PFAS at three former closed landfills located at what is now the Aquadome site, on Deer Springs Road and Old Moulton Road, and to provide for the protection of these governmental entities in the future from any new regulations or laws relating to PFAS,’ the statement reads in part. ‘Although we recognize the complexity in these cases, we also wish that these cases could have been resolved sooner. However, the claims and issues in these cases are much more complicated than simply involving the purchase of a closed school like Brookhaven.’
The statement also indicates the city is considering action against 3M.
‘In mediation, by Order of the Courts, all actions in these cases are stayed (put on hold) pending further Order of those Courts,’ the statement says. ‘So, we are barred by Court Orders at this time to pursue claims in Court against 3M until allowed to do so by the Courts.’
3M declined to comment Thursday on the statement issued by Lovelace and on the question of whether the company is planning to buy the Aquadome property.
In January, 3M addressed cleanup issues and said the company planned to be more forthcoming about the chemicals.
‘We are part of the solution to ensuring communities have confidence in their water. This includes addressing contamination of sites where we produced or disposed of PFAS,’ 3M CEO Mike Roman said during a company earnings call in January.
In that same January call, Roman also announced the company is facing a new potential problem — a federal grand jury.
‘In connection with our Decatur disclosures 3M received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama in late December 2019,’ Roman said…”