NYELJP and the Environmental Subcommittee of the National Lawyers’ Guild are working with a local community group, the Concerned Citizens of WMEL, an organization dedicated to the question of clean water in West Morgan County and Lawrence County of northern Alabama. We seek to help develop community education and testing and investigate potential avenues of legal recourse.
Community members in these counties face a multitude of environmental / health concerns. While they know their water is contaminated, it appears that they have been unable to determine the severity of the contamination, and the severity of the health consequences they are facing, primarily due to lack of access to resources and expertise.
While there appear to be a number of industrial plants that release toxins into the Tennessee River (the source of drinking water for the people in the counties), defendants in a recent lawsuit are receiving a good deal of attention: 3M Company and its subsidiary Dyneon LLC, and Daikin America Inc.
3M and Dyneon are the present owners and operators of manufacturing and disposal facilities in Decatur, Alabama. They are believed to have released PFOAs, PFOSs, and other chemicals into the groundwater and surface water of their respective sites. These chemicals have been discharged into the Tennessee River and its tributaries, including Bakers Creek, and released into the Decatur Utilities Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) (and thus the Tennessee River).
Daikin manufactures Tetrafluoroethylene (“TFE”), Hexaflouropropylene fluoropolymers (“HFP”) at its Decatur, Alabama plant, and is believed to be using PFOAs in its manufacturing process, discharging wastewater and site storm water contaminated with PFOAs into the Tennessee River and WWTP (the WWTP in turn discharging the wastewater containing those chemicals into the river). Daikin’s plant was further constructed upon land that previously served as a site for the land application of the adjacent 3M Company’s sludge. Daikin’s site is contaminated with PFOAs, PFOSs, and other related chemicals.
Specific environmental sources of contamination, and some documented health concerns include:
- PFOAs / PFOSs and other Industrial Discharge — industrial factories have released, and continue to release, PFOAs and PFOSs into the Tennessee River and its tributaries; additional dumping into landfills is proving problematic, due to leeching of chemicals. The Tennessee River is the drinking water source for people in the community, sourced by the water authority, meaning community members are ingesting these toxins.
- Sludge — currently being applied to surrounding land; reportedly contains PFOAs.
- Cancer Cluster, Autism — both counties reportedly comprise a cancer cluster, as well as report a high incident rates of autism.
- Lead — the local school is uncertain if there is lead in the school system’s water; despite parents’ offers to test the water, the school refused the offer, saying it didn’t have the funds to do anything about the problem if one actually exists.
- Other — citizens also report a high level of mercury in the water.
Another grassroots organization, Warriors for Clean Water, reports that PFOSs were created by a 3M chemist. The same source notes that 3M workers, represented by a law firm in Athens, brought a lawsuit against 3M. The organization says 3M states they are not manufacturing PFOSs / PFOAs any longer, but that water levels tested high for these chemicals behind the 3M plant. The organization expresses concern that the chemicals might be seeping in the water from the groundwater or buried barrels.