A north Alabama water utility still grappling with perfluorinated chemical pollution allegedly caused by the 3M plant in Decatur is asking the state to front $58 million for the construction of an advanced water filtration system.
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority on its list of 59 water systems nationwide with levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) too high for safe human consumption. The water authority was one of nine water systems deemed unsafe for too-high levels of industrial pollutants stemming from 3M.
The WMEL Water Authority acted on the EPA warning by telling its customers to not drink the water. It then sued 3M to recoup the costs of installing a temporary carbon filtration system and, eventually, a permanent reverse-osmosis system.
The Water Authority’s case against 3M is ongoing, but it could be years before the litigation is resolved. In the meantime, the utility says that it “lacks adequate capacity to provide safe drinking water,” according to Huntsville’s WHNT Channel 19.
The Water Authority seeks a low-interest loan from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), which administrates the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) for the construction of public water system improvements.
According to WHNT, the WMEL Water Authority estimated that a reverse-osmosis system would save $29 million over a span of 20 years rather than if it were to stay with a granular carbon filtration system. It would also be more effective in removing the 3M pollutants.
A lawyer representing the water authority in the 3M case told WHNT that the utility experimented with making the granular carbon filtration system its long-term solution, including moving the water intake point, incorporating water from other sources, and ion exchange. He said all the research points back to the reverse osmosis system as the most effective and cost-effective solution in dealing with the 3M pollutants.
Exposure to PFOS and PFOA over time, even in trace amounts, promotes serious health problems. According to the EPA, exposure to the chemicals may cause “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 3M plant produced PFOS and PFOA in its Decatur plant for the manufacture of non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-proofing coatings.