Class action lawsuit: Decatur manufacturers polluted Tennessee River

Published: Oct. 5, 2015 at 9:43 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2015 at 9:21 PM CST
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(WAFF) - The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and three North Alabama residents have filed a class action lawsuit against 3M Company, Dyneon, and Daikin America.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of polluting the Tennessee River with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
The chemicals are man-made and used to make items fire resistant and oil, stain, grease, and water repellant. In the 1990's, 3M discontinued the manufacturing of PFOS after the EPA brought forward concerns with the chemicals.

The lawsuit states those chemicals can cause health problems like cancer, immune system issues, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol.

"It's got me so concerned that I'll not eat any more fish, and I doubt that I'll get in the water anymore," said Garry Fielder. Fielder stores his boat at a Decatur marina. We showed him the lawsuit on Tuesday. "It concerns me. I'm in the water a lot," said Fielder.

PDFs: PFOS/PFOA Fact sheet | EPA info on PFOA | ADPH Fish Consumption Advisories

The plaintiffs accuse 3M of discharging wastewater, containing those chemicals, into the Tennessee River or a tributary of the river. The lawsuit states 3M had knowledge of the issues with PFOA and PFOS for more than 30 years. It goes on to say 3M has known PFOA and PFOS are not effectively treated by typical water treatment processes.
3M denies any evidence PFOA and PFOS present harm to human health at levels typically found in the environment or in human blood. "In more than 30 years of medical surveillance we have observed no adverse health effects in our employees resulting from their exposure to PFOS or PFOA," says Dr. Carol Ley, vice president and corporate medical director, 3M Medical Department. "This is very important since the level of exposure in the general population is much lower than that of production employees who worked directly with these materials."
The Water Authority accuses 3M of misleading them concerning the levels of pollution stating:

Despite access to confidential studies and first-hand experience with the hazards of PFOS and PFOA, 3M assured The Authority that documented levels of pollution posed no threat to the Plaintiffs. Contrary to the representations by 3M to The Authority, 3M knew the levels for safe drinking water were inadequate to protect the Plaintiffs and that under new proposed standards, the PFOS and PFOA levels in The Authority water supply were dangerously high.

 According to the lawsuit, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry analyzed the blood serum of 121 people in the area affected. All had a elevated levels of PFOA in the blood serum.
An attorney for 3M issued the following statement Monday:

The company is confident that its actions in Alabama are a credit to its well-known record of responsible environmental stewardship." William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel for 3M went on to say, "Needless to say, 3M believes these claims lack merit. Although these types of lawsuits capture headlines, it is important to remember they are often based on groundless allegations. 3M believes there has been no harm to plaintiffs' property due to the mere environmental presence of these materials.

 Brewer says the companies actions were legal and fully permitted.
The lawsuit states the number of members will likely exceed 25,000 people. The water authority provides water to people in Colbert, Franklin, Winston, Cullman, Lawrence, and Morgan Counties.

Legal Analyst Mark McDaniel said it could take years to resolve the lawsuit because of the environmental claims. According to McDaniel, the court will look to clean up any problems if they exist before they look at individual or class action suits.

"You've got to stop that problem," said McDaniel. You don't want more people being damaged."

The plaintiffs have requested a jury trial.
Attempts to contact Daikin America were unsuccessful Monday evening. We reached out again on Tuesday and spoke to a representative with the company. We're expecting a statement from Daikin America at some point. 
The environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper notified 3M, BFI Waste Systems of Alabama, Decatur Utilities, and the City of Decatur of their intent to sue over dangerous chemicals in the Tennessee River. That lawsuit has not been filed.
On October 1, Auburn University researchers took soil and water samples around the Decatur area. The EPA is testing those samples in a private lab.

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