Environmental watchdog group Tennessee Riverkeeper has filed a federal complaint against 3M Company, BFI Waste Systems of Alabama, the City of Decatur, Ala., and Decatur Utilities, alleging the defendants are liable for illegally high levels of industrial pollutants in the Decatur area water supply.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advisory that focused on the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) in 59 U.S. water supplies, including eight in Alabama.
PFOA and PFOS are man-made chemical compounds used in the manufacture of non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-proofing coatings on fabric, cookware, firefighting foam, and a variety of other consumer products.
Tennessee Riverkeeper alleges 3M, which operates a major manufacturing plant on the Tennessee River in Decatur, and its co-defendants are responsible for the release of the chemical compounds into the environment. 3M is the world’s major producer of PFOA and PFOS, which resist environmental degradation and accumulate over time.
According to the lawsuit, BFI allowed 3M to dump chemical-laden sludge in its Morris Farms Landfill in Hillsboro, Ala., resulting in contaminated liquids that leached into the groundwater and made their way to Decatur Utilities’ Dry Creek Water Treatment Plant, which discharges the wastewater into the Tennessee River.
The utility company continues to receive wastewater from 3M, the lawsuit alleges, and that PFOA and PFOS wastewater and sludge continue to contaminate the soil, surface water, and water table in the Decatur area.
“After nearly five decades of 3M’s pollution of the Tennessee River, where no one has held the defendants accountable, we felt we needed to act to protect this precious resource and all the wildlife and restore justice to the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on her water every day,” said Tennessee Riverkeeper Founder and Executive Director David Whiteside.
The complaint says as a resultant of all chemical pollution stemming from the 3M plant, water samples in Decatur and other communities show the presence of PFOA and PFOS in levels that exceed EPA safety levels.
Exposure to the industrial chemicals over time, even in trace amounts, could promote serious health problems. Some of the adverse effects linked to the chemicals include “developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes),” the EPA warns.
According to the agency, pregnant women, unborn children, breast-fed children, and babies whose formula is made with tap water are among the people most at risk from exposure.
Tennessee Riverkeeper asks the court to order the “ongoing disposal of PFOA, PFOS and related chemicals that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment and to clean up the groundwater contamination.”