3M Co. is paying $35 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it contaminated West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority’s water supply with industrial chemicals that have been discharged into the Tennessee River, the company said in a regulatory filing.
In a joint statement Friday, WMEL and 3M announced they had settled, but did not disclose the amount.
“The Water Authority will fund a new water filtration system and, as part of the settlement, 3M agreed to indemnify the Water Authority from liability resulting from the resolution of the currently pending and future lawsuits against the Water Authority alleging liability or damage related to 3M PFAS,” according to 3M’s quarterly report.
PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. At least two of the chemicals in the PFAS family, PFOA and PFOS, were contained in sludge dumped on 3M’s riverfront Decatur facility and continue to contaminate the groundwater there, according to 3M filings with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The chemicals also are present in off-site dumps and landfills, and WMEL alleged 3M waste is a primary source of river contamination.
3M’s agreement to indemnify WMEL from claims filed by others could be significant. Hundreds of claims have been filed against the authority by its customers alleging health issues and property damage stemming from PFAS-contaminated drinking water. WMEL’s liability insurance carrier has denied coverage for the claims.
WMEL filed the suit against 3M and Daikin in October 2015. It last year settled with Daikin for $4 million. WMEL used the money to cover the cost of a temporary carbon filtration plant it installed in 2016, which has successfully removed PFOA and PFOS from the drinking water.
The 3M filing does not not indicate how much of the settlement will go toward attorney fees and litigation expenses, but in a statement Friday WMEL said the recovery allows it to build a reverse osmosis filtration system that it had previously said would have a construction cost of about $29 million.
The settlement agreement remains confidential, and WMEL officials and attorneys have said its terms prevent them from discussing it. The Decatur Daily has submitted a public records request seeking a copy of the document.
WMEL draws its raw water from the river, about 13 miles downstream of the 3M plant in Decatur. WMEL drinking water tested above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime exposure guidelines for PFOA and PFOS when the agency issued the guidelines in 2016.
WMEL provides water to about 53,000 people.
Another lawsuit involving the same chemicals was filed against 3M in 2002 in the Morgan County Circuit Court. It originally was brought by a 3M employee alleging injuries from the chemicals, but has expanded to a claim seeking class certification. Defendants now also include BFI Waste Management, the city of Decatur and the Decatur Utilities board.
*Original article online at https://www.moultonadvertiser.com/news/local/article_617ce4e4-6c2e-11e9-a38e-03835e849445.html