We have certain expectations of our neighbors. We expect them not to throw loud parties late at night during the work week when we’re trying to sleep. We expect them not to hurl their garbage over the fence and into our yard rather than dispose of it properly.
All said, we’d prefer not to have to call the cops to come around and tell them to keep it down and secure their trash cans.
3M has been a part of the Decatur neighborhood since 1961. It has provided good-paying jobs and donated to worthy projects in the community, but it hasn’t always been a good neighbor.
For years we have reported on chemicals used by 3M and other industries along the Decatur waterfront that have made their way into the Tennessee River, area landfills and the water supplied to customers of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority.
Those chemicals have been phased out of use, but they persist in the environment, and since then other chemicals in use at 3M have come under scrutiny for possible adverse health effects.
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.”
In response to the recent chemical release and concerns about historic chemical disposal, Decatur and Morgan County officials said last week they had requested 3M test three former Decatur landfill sites. 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,” Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said. “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 said it’s also scrutinizing former landfills in Lawrence County, and some of the closed dump sites there and in Morgan County date back to the 1950s.
All of this has led to questions about the state’s environmental cop, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Whatever 3M’s actions, ADEM’s inaction is worse. Citizens count on ADEM to make sure environmental rules are followed. Unfortunately, ADEM has a long reputation for, at best, being asleep at the wheel, and at worst putting the interests of industry and polluters over the interests of average residents.
Responding to reports that 3M had released pollution for years without state intervention or disclosure, Gov. Kay Ivey said last week that ADEM needs to present solutions to the problem.
“I have a lot of respect for ADEM authority, but this case needs solutions on the table, and I’m not seeing many of those solutions. And while I have a lot of respect for the ADEM and their operations ... I look forward to having some real solutions offered to address the concerns of those citizens,” Ivey said.
Residents of north Alabama who depend on the Tennessee River for their drinking water and their livelihoods expect more than that. Maybe it’s just her temperament, but Gov. Ivey, with all her talk of “respect for ADEM,” doesn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously enough. She should be angry.
ADEM has no problem going after the little guy, such as recently fining a developer working on a construction project in Athens thousands of dollars for some dirt that washed into a stream and caused some temporary muddiness. But ADEM has long been suspected of being too cozy with big business in the name of keeping Alabama a business-friendly state. In this case, it looks like ADEM was not doing its job with respect to 3M.
We’re not sure solutions to this can come from within ADEM. They will have to come from the governor and the Legislature taking a look at ADEM from top to bottom.
If the governor wants solutions, she should offer some up herself.