Fluoride Action Network

Alabama: Update on PFC contamination on North Alabama farms

Source: Jere Beasley Report | January 15th, 2010 | By Beasley Allen
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Our firm continues to investigate claims on behalf of Alabama farmers and other property owners affected by contaminated sewage sludge in fertilizer in Franklin, Lawrence, and Morgan counties. As we have reported, sewage sludge used as fertilizer was spread over approximately 5000 acres of farmland and contained elevated levels of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) – specifically perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS). The contamination stems from industrial operations in the Decatur area, particularly 3M, Dyneon, Daiken and Toray Flurofibers. Each of these companies reportedly discharged waste and water into the Decatur Utilities wastewater treatment plant. Decatur Utilities contracted with Synagro to spread the sludge on area farms.

The contamination sparked a multi-agency investigation to determine the extent of PFC contamination, including potential routes of exposure and any potential health effects to area residents. On December 1, 2009, multiple agencies held a meeting to update the public on the PFC contamination in north Alabama. The agencies participating included EPA, ADEM, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry, and Decatur Utilities.

The EPA announced that Region IV has developed soil screening guidance limits for PFOA (16,000 ppb or micrograms/kilogram) and PFOS (6,000 ppb or micrograms/kilogram). They found PFCs in 25/26 soil samples in the Decatur area ranging from .17-317 ppb for PFOA and 4.5-408 ppb for PFOS. The samples also revealed elevated levels of other PFCs, but those levels were not discussed.

The EPA admitted that there is some uncertainty to the soil screening guidance limits because they are not based on lifetime exposure and do not account for the presence of other PFCs. They advised that children should be kept away from soil contaminated with PFCs. The EPA is working on lifetime exposure limits for PFOA and PFOS that will be completed by the end of 2010.

After the contamination was discovered on the properties receiving sludge, 3M, Dyneon, Daiken and Toray Flurofibers agreed to sample all private wells within one mile of land with heavy application, within a half mile of land with moderate application, and within a quarter mile of land with low application. These wells will be sampled quarterly for one year. The EPA also took additional samples from the municipal water supplies in the area in September 2009. None of these samples exceeded the limits proscribed by the Provisional Health Advisory, and only one – West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority (WMELWA) – had levels above the non-detect level. WMELWA showed .3 ppb PFOA and .2 ppb PFOS.

USDA FSIS reported that they completed the assessment of the tissue samples taken from local cattle. The samples revealed that any PFC contamination was below detectable limits. The north Alabama samples compared similarly to the ten random samples taken from cattle elsewhere in the U.S. ATSDR presented information about a new study the agency will undertake beginning in the spring of 2010 with results available approximately six months thereafter. The ATSDR plans to evaluate blood samples of area residents to determine whether PFCs are present in local residents’ blood at levels higher than the national average. The study will be voluntary and seeks 200 individuals over age 12 who live on or near land where PFC-laden sludge was heavily applied.

Study participants must have lived on or near the contaminated land for at least one year. Persons ingesting contaminated well water for one year or more also are eligible to participate. Persons working in PFC related industries and persons who suffer from blood disorders or anemia are ineligible for the study. The ATSDR study is free and no individual health information will be shared. The study is limited to blood screening, and no other health assessments will be conducted at this time. If the results show high levels of PFCs in residents’ blood, additional assessments may be conducted to determine health impacts caused by the elevated levels. The ADPH stated that they are finding PFCs in fish in the Tennessee River, and the fish with highest levels are found in Baker’s Creek. This creek is where the location of the 3M, Daiken and Toray Flurofibers outfalls.

Lawyers in our firm have successfully represented clients in PFC cases nationwide. We continue to examine the situation in Decatur on behalf of those affected by the contamination. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Rhon Jones or David Byrne in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or David.Byrne@beasleyallen.com.

Sources: Associated Press, Decatur Daily