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Opinion | Alabama lawmakers mostly silent on 3M revelations

Josh Moon

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

If someone was poisoning your neighbors, would you tell them? 

Would you speak up? Would you try to stop them? Would you use whatever authority you had to make them stop? Would you hold them accountable? Would you make them clean up their mess? Would you help the people who had been poisoned? 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re apparently not qualified to be an elected official from north Alabama. 

For the past two weeks, reporters — mostly Chelsea Brentzel from WHNT in Huntsville — have been trying to get lawmakers from north Alabama to say something — ANYTHING! — about recent reports of 3M dumping banned pollutants in the Tennessee River for years. 

The response: crickets. Mostly. 

One person did respond critically. 

Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who has taken less than $1,000 from 3M in campaign donations, condemned the release of the chemicals and called for an investigation into what happened and why the public wasn’t better notified. 

But Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Robert Aderholt, state Sen. Arthur Orr, state Rep. Terri Collins and several others all just can’t seem to find their voices. 

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That’s not to say that they’re too busy. 

Aderholt had time on Monday to tell people that marijuana as a prescription drug is junk science — for real. In 2019. And then he issued a press release on the 3M situation, which essentially said that there’s a 3M situation with water and stuff and some people are looking into it, probably.

Brooks was on a Huntsville radio show on Monday saying racist things. Which would be noteworthy if said about someone other than Brooks, who, at any given time, is mostly likely somewhere saying something racist. 

Orr managed some time since the 3M news broke to campaign for a friend. 

But not a peep from any of them about literal poison being pumped into the water their constituents drink, the water their children bathe in, the water in their hometowns. 

And of course they all took 3M money. 

Thousands of dollars. Aderholt took around $5,500 in the last two cycles. Brooks got nearly $6,000. Orr and Collins got $2,000 each last year. More 3M money went into federal and state PACs, which doled cash out to more politicians. 

And most of it came well after the chemical manufacturing giant had been credibly accused of dumping potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the river. 

These people took that 3M money even after the people in Morgan and Lawrence counties had stopped drinking their water because it was too polluted. Even after the first lawsuits had been filed.

And you know, even that would be OK if they were now — after learning that 3M acknowledged dumping the pollutants for years — standing up and speaking out. If they were now pledging federal-level help in making sure this mess gets cleaned up. If they had a plan of action at the state level to ensure that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management did its job. 

But they’re not. And they most likely won’t. 

Because they’re mostly OK with this. It is, after all, the result they expected when they talked about cutting “burdensome regulations” on businesses. 

This is what happens when you create a more business-friendly EPA and ADEM. It’s what happens when you elect politicians who believe a bigger bottom line solves all problems. 

Your rivers catch fire. Your air is unbreathable. Your dirt is toxic. 

And they don’t understand what the big deal is. 

How much don’t they understand? This much: Back during the campaign last year, Aderholt told U.S. News and World Report that his district’s opioid epidemic — which he deemed an “epidemic of depression” — would be solved by President Trump’s economic policies. 

Literally, he believed that people would be so happy to have money that their addiction and depression would go away. 

Because that’s what apparently drives conservative politicians now — an unabashed love of money. A sick belief that almost anything — any egregious act, any destruction — is justified if the bottom line is big enough. Or that the effects of such awful actions can be mitigated or even eliminated by a wad of cash. 

Even watching your neighbors be poisoned.

 

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Environment

High chemical levels in water near Decatur landfill concern environmental group, ADEM

Josh Moon

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Recent tests of water flowing under an abandoned landfill in Decatur found levels of the chemicals PFAS and PFOS at 51,000 parts per trillion — substantially higher than the 70 parts per trillion the EPA has determined is safe for drinking water — test results obtained by APR show. 

The tests, paid for by the Tennessee Riverkeepers group and conducted on two occasions in the past five months by ALS testing labs, measured chemical levels at the Old Moulton Road landfill site, where water flows directly into Mud Tavern Creek and Flint Creek.

On March 9, testing showed the combined levels of PFAS and PFOS chemicals to be at 49,000 parts per trillion. Two months later, on May 5, the results showed levels of 51,000. Those chemicals, used in manufacturing by 3M, which has a plant near Decatur, have been linked to cancer and various other health issues, particularly in pregnant women. 

These are alarming levels, and where they’re being discharged is also of concern to Riverkeeper because they are being discharged into a part of the county that we thought was not as contaminated,” Tennessee Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside said in an interview with WHNT-19 earlier this week. “They’re also flowing into the Point Mallard area, and possibly flowing into the drinking water intake because the creek that they’re flowing into empties upstream from our drinking water intake.”

In a response on Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management acknowledged that it is also concerned with the testing results — although the agency also said it was unable to verify the Riverkeepers’ test results because it wasn’t sure of the protocols — and said it is working with the EPA and others to develop a plan for addressing the chemicals. 

However, ADEM also noted that it is somewhat limited in its possible responses, because the EPA has yet to set acceptable PFAS/PFOS limits for ground water or bodies of water, such as creeks and rivers. (The 70-parts-per-trillion limit is only for drinking water.) Without those limits, ADEM is unable to impose fines or force remediation efforts by 3M or other responsible parties or even issue warnings. 

ADEM spokesperson Lynn Battle said that while the agency hasn’t been able to alert nearby residents of increased PFAS/PFOS levels, in this particular case, the area is already under a do-not-eat advisory for fish due to high levels of mercury. 

She said the Department is now working on a much larger and more comprehensive plan for dealing with PFAS/PFOS chemicals. 

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ADEM wants to reassure the public, especially citizens who use our waterways, that we are working to put in place measures which provide the utmost protections for Alabamians and the state’s waters and lands in regard to PFAS,” Battle said. “Those measures will include remediation and will limit exposure to the compounds now and in the future.”

This is not the first incident of the Riverkeeper organization finding and testing old dumping sites in north Alabama, particularly around Decatur. 3M and other companies in the area have faced numerous lawsuits, and Tennessee Riverkeepers currently has a federal lawsuit pending. 

One of the largest concerns about the PFAS/PFOS contaminants is that they could seep into the drinking water, as they did in west Morgan and east Lawrence counties a few years ago. Those issues prompted the water authority in the area to tell people to stop drinking the water. 

Decatur Utilities, which supplies water in the Decatur area, said its testing continues to show only acceptable levels of PFAS/PFOS. In a statement issued to WHNT this week, DU said its levels “have consistently been less than 5 (parts per trillion).”

Battle said ADEM has reviewed DU’s submitted, regular testing results for drinking water and is comfortable that the water is safe to drink.

 

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Environment

Gov. Kay Ivey awards $3.2 for home weatherization program

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $3.2 million to 14 community action agencies that help low-income, elderly and disabled Alabamians with home weatherization. 

“Those Alabama residents who are living on limited incomes, especially the elderly and disabled, can struggle to pay higher utility bills in the summer months,” Ivey said in a statement Monday. “These grants will assist in lowering the energy bills for many of them by making upgrades to keep their houses cooler and more comfortable during the hot summer months.” 

The U.S. Department of Energy grants — administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs — are managed by those 14 local community agencies, which processes applications from residents and determines which qualify for aid through the Alabama Weatherization Assistance Program. 

If a person qualifies, the federal aid can be used to install insulation, seal around drafty windows and doors, replace inefficient lighting and repair air conditioning systems. 

For every dollar invested in the weatherization program, $1.80 is returned to the homeowner in utility savings and taxpayers at large get 71 cents through reduced uncollected utility bills, improved housing quality and health, and increased local employment, according to  ADECA. 

“ADECA continues to support Gov. Ivey in helping those who need it most through the Weatherization Assistance Program,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Our partnerships with local community agencies ensure that many underserved residents receive help in preparing their homes for the hottest part of the year now and for years in the future.”

Below is a list of each grant, the recipient agency, counties served and the agency telephone number:

  • $291,917 to Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (Autauga, Chilton, Dallas, Elmore, Macon, Perry, Russell and Shelby) 334-262-4300
  • $78,418 to Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers-Tallapoosa-Coosa (Chambers, Coosa and Tallapoosa) 256-825-4287
  • $124,675 to Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. (Lee) 334-821-8336
  • $196,939 to Community Action Partnership of Huntsville-Madison and Limestone Counties Inc. (Madison and Limestone) 256-851-9800
  • $421,578 to Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity (Jefferson) 205-327-7500
  • $326,697 to Mobile Community Action Inc. (Choctaw, Mobile and Washington) 251-457-5700
  • $175,434 to Montgomery County Commission (Montgomery) 334-832-1210
  • $244,123 to Community Action Partnership of North Alabama Inc. (Cullman, Lawrence, Marion, Morgan, Walker and Winston) 256-355-7843
  • $325,655 to Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Marshall and St. Clair) 256-638-4430
  • $128,255 to Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama Inc. (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale) 256-766-4330
  • $297,745 to Organized Community Action Program Inc. (Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes and Pike) 334-566-1712
  • $218,125 to Community Action Agency of South Alabama (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe and Wilcox) 251-626-2646
  • $197,793 to Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne (Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega) 256-362-6611
  • $229,705 to Community Service Programs of West Alabama Inc. (Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa) 205-752-5429
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Environment

Above-normal hurricane season predicted

Eddie Burkhalter

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Monday marks the first day of hurricane season, and in a statement Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey warned of the potential of numerous hurricanes this season. 

“June 1 marks the first day of hurricane season, and as we know, Alabama is far too familiar with the uncertainty and damage that accompanies any severe weather. The National Weather Service is predicting an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs now through November 30,” Ivey said in a statement. 

“As our country focuses on safely reopening our economy and combatting a health pandemic, it is also vitally important we remember to make preparations now for any severe weather, because hurricanes, tornadoes and severe weather will not wait for us to be ready. Hurricane preparedness must still be a focus for every Alabamian,” Ivey continued. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. 

“NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher),” according to NOAA’s website.

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Environment

Alabama State Waters reopen for shrimping on June 1

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division announced that pursuant to Section 9-12-46, Code of Alabama 1975, all inside waters not permanently closed by law or regulation will open for shrimp harvesting at 6 a.m., on Monday, June 1, 2020.

This opening includes Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, the Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay, Arnica Bay, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon.

Licensed live bait dealers holding a permit for Special Live Bait Areas are reminded that an area beside the Battleship Alabama south of the Tensaw River Bridge, north of a line from the north point of Pinto Pass (N30 40.755, W88 01.124) to the northwest edge of Goat Island (N30 40.124, W88 00.784), and west of a line from the northwest edge of Goat Island to the eastern end of Tensaw River Bridge (N30 40.955, W88 00.444) will be open from one hour before sunrise until sunset from June 1 to December 31, 2020.

Shrimp are an important food species for a number of fish and wildlife species. Alabama waters contain 15 to 22 species of shrimp. Only three of these are normally eaten by humans. These are: the brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), the white shrimp (P. setiferus), and the pink shrimp (P. duorarum). Shrimp, along with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, are a species of invertebrates known as decapods. There are about 2,000 species of shrimp in the world.

The brown shrimp is by far the most abundant The pink shrimp is the least abundant of the three. Alabamians harvest approximately 20.5 million pounds of shrimp with an estimated dockside value of $45 million.

The ADCNR closes Alabama’s waters around May 1 each year because May is when the juvenile brown shrimp begin to leave their nurseries in the wetlands and marshes to explore deeper water. The break in the shrimping action gives the commercially important shrimp time to age and grow without fishing pressure.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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