3M Co. grossly underreported the levels of toxic PFOS and PFOA chemicals it discharged into the Tennessee River from its Decatur, Alabama plant, the company disclosed in a letter to Alabama regulators.
The company told the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) that it underreported the level of chemical releases over a period of about three and a half years, ending in mid-2016. 3M’s admission comes as lawsuits against the manufacturer continue to mount, most of them filed by individuals who developed cancer and other serious health problems allegedly brought on by exposure to the 3M chemicals.
3M used perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) as water-proof and non-stick surfactants in consumer products such as Teflon cookware and Scotchguard. The company operated a plant 13 miles from the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority’s Tennessee River intake in Decatur, Alabama.
The Water Authority last year had to warn its customers not to drink the water after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed the presence of dangerous levels of the PFC chemicals. The utility has since installed a temporary filtration system that can remove the chemicals, but it is also suing 3M with the aim of getting the company to pay for the cost of a permanent system.
According to The Decatur (Alabama) Daily, a 3M environmental engineer wrote to ADEM on April 20, saying that 3M had submitted its discharge monitoring reports in milligrams per liter instead of micrograms per liter. ADEM then recorded these readings without converting them, resulting in substantially lower discharge outputs.
The company said that these reports were made in error and that they were discovered as part of an internal review.
An attorney for the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority told The Decatur Daily that he “would absolutely expect” 3M’s underreporting of the PFC discharges to become factor into the utility’s complaint against 3M, “especially when you consider what 3M’s home state of Minnesota has done.”
According to The Decatur Daily:
In a court filing earlier this month, attorneys for the state of Minnesota accused 3M of covering up information for decades regarding the dangers of PFCs by funding friendly research, blocking the publication of other research and failing to report toxicology findings to federal regulators.
David Whiteside, president of Tennessee Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog, told The Decatur Daily that the news of 3M’s emissions underreporting didn’t surprise him.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper has known all along that the 3M Company was discharging horrendous amounts of PFCs through their wastewater treatment plant and we were aware they were using a mixture of (micrograms per liter) and (milligrams per liter) to report this pollution,” he said in a statement.