City and county leaders say they requested 3M test three former Decatur landfills that have been closed for decades after hearing concerns from citizens.
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling also said the company itself said it dumped potentially harmful chemicals in the now-closed landfills.
“It’s just a concern,” Ray Long, chairman of the Morgan County Commission, said Tuesday. “A lot of people have a lot of concern right now with the word 3M and any dump site here even though 3M didn’t start here until 1961. People are in the mode now because 3M announced a few weeks ago they had leakage.”
3M reported earlier this year in a letter to regulators that a self-investigation determined it had released the chemical "FBSA and may have released FBSEE from its manufacturing operations to the Tennessee River. ... Due to these concerns, 3M has ceased both its FBSA and FBSEE manufacturing operations at its Decatur plant as well as any associated waste stream releases from those operations.”
Long and Bowling asked 3M to test the former dump areas at the Brookhaven/Aquadome, Old Moulton Road/Mud Tavern and Deer Springs/Flint areas. There is concern about the possible presence of PFAS compounds PFOA and PFOS that 3M ceased manufacturing in 2000.
“Everybody is worried about 3M,” Long added. “We want them to test these landfills. It’s just a good idea to go back and test them and make everybody do it.”
Long said he has no problem with 3M testing sites where they potentially dumped some of their chemicals.
“We don’t feel like we ought to do it,” he said. “3M ought to because it was their chemicals. They’ve been good to us, and they want to do what’s right. The majority of the time they’ve been great partners in this community. They didn’t hesitate when we asked them to test the three sites.”
Bowling said the constant “dribbling” of news about 3M and possible contamination is putting Decatur in a bad light. He said requesting tests on the former landfills will hopefully lead to a solution of the concern.
“3M said in their own news release they put chemicals in those landfills,” Bowling said. “The dribbling of information is not helping this community.”
Bowling said he is confident 3M will return “a convincing report.”
In a news release Monday, 3M’s Robin Higgs, former Decatur site manager, said the company “delivered waste materials to these landfills decades ago.”
“… We are committed to working with the city, county and government regulators to take appropriate steps to investigate these landfills and make sure they are maintained in a safe condition,” she said. “If there are any PFAS-related issues with the sites, we will find and fix them.”
In the release, 3M said it has been working to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in the local environment. At least two of the chemicals in the PFAS family, PFOA and PFOS, were dumped on 3M’s riverfront Decatur facility and continue to contaminate the groundwater there, according to 3M filings with the state. PFOA and PFOS previously were used in Scotchgard and other products and coatings that resisted stains and had nonstick characteristics.
According to a report issued last year by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, health risks associated with the chemicals include kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, decreased response to vaccines, asthma, decreased fertility and decreased birth weight.
Long said that having 3M and chemicals as major stories in the news media lately has been disturbing.
“We want our citizens to know the drinking water is safe,” Long added. “The only way you can prove that to people is to test it. We want everybody to understand 3M is doing their part and they’re paying for (the testing).”
County Engineer Greg Bodley agreed with the idea of testing. “As a precautionary measure, we need to see what’s there and if there is anything to do to mitigate the problem,” he said.
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said when he took office in 1983, the Old Moulton Road/Mud Tavern dump was already closed.
“I haven’t had one call, but once word gets out, people will be more concerned,” he said. “We want to put people’s minds at ease.”
Bowling said Decatur Utilities' water plant is upstream on the Tennessee River from 3M’s plant here. DU said in a release Monday its water supply is safe.
The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority issued a warning to customers in late May 2016 that caused some people to drink, cook and bathe with bottled water until the scare was alleviated.
At the time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory warning of the possible health hazards from long-term ingestion of drinking water with levels of PFAS above 70 parts per trillion. The authority’s drinking water, drawn from the Tennessee River 16 miles downstream of Decatur industries, was above that level at the time. The EPA and state health officials recommended that pregnant and breast-feeding mothers avoid the water and that the water not be used in baby formula.
Earlier this year, 3M settled with WMEL for $35 million in a lawsuit over alleged water contamination.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health has not received any reports of health hazards associated with people in the area shared by the old Brookhaven Middle School campus and Aquadome Recreation Center.