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Opinion | 3M dumped harmful chemicals around Decatur for years. It’s time the public knew the consequences

Josh Moon

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Every afternoon during seventh grade basketball practice, I and everyone else on the team would make as many trips as allowed to the water fountain just outside the gym doors to gulp down enough water to keep us from passing out. 

After school some days, we would ride our bikes to an old creek near the middle school and spend hours splashing around, catching crawdads and doing dumb things. 

In the summer, if we were lucky, someone’s parents would take us swimming at the Aquadome — a city-owned swimming pool that is covered by an odd, greenhouse-like dome. 

Turns out, all of that water was probably poison. 

I grew up in Decatur, where 3M apparently poisoned every square inch of land it could find to dump industrial waste. 

That might be a bit of hyperbole, but not by much. 

They’re finding old dump sites that 3M “forgot” all over the place in Morgan and Lawrence counties, and Decatur has that poison seeping into everything. From drinking water to runoff, to the ground under an old middle school to local waterways and the Tennessee River. 

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The old middle school where they’ve recently found high concentrations of PFOA and PFOS contaminants — which were in chemicals that 3M used to create non-stick cookware in the 1970s and 80s — was named Brookhaven. It’s where I and a whole bunch of my lifelong friends spent our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade years. 

We knew way back then that the school, which closed a few years ago, was built on top of an old landfill. We knew this because there were rampant tales of the school sinking an inch or two every few years. I have no idea if this was true, or if it was just one of those old rumors that one group of kids told to a younger group of kids and no one had Google to check. 

But we never heard a word about chemicals being dumped at the site. 

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Neither did Decatur City Schools. 

We know that because DCS, tired of waiting on the City of Decatur to file suit and demand compensation for cleaning up this 3M mess, filed notice with 3M and the EPA last week that it intends to sue the company for cleanup costs. 

That notice follows reports from an investigation of the old landfill site conducted earlier this year by GHD Services, and commissioned by 3M. That report found extremely high levels of PFOA and PFOS at the 40-acre landfill site. 

Of the 40 acres, DCS owns about 15 around Brookhaven. The City of Decatur owns the rest, including the Aquadome and the land where several little league ball fields sit. 

The team that filed the notice is the same legal team that negotiated a $35 million settlement out of 3M and another $4 million out of Daikin America last year for the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority. 

The Water Authority sued over PFOA/PFOS contamination of the Tennessee River seeping into the county drinking water, making it unsafe. 

And it is unsafe. 

At even low levels, researchers have found links between the chemicals and cancer, thyroid disease, immunotoxicity and high cholesterol. The presence of the chemicals at the Brookhaven site was 11 times higher than recommended by the EPA. 

The EPA is still working out just what acceptable levels should be for PFOS/PFOA chemicals, but significantly lowered the acceptable recommended amounts a few years ago after testing found the chemicals to cause health problems at much lower concentration levels. 

In the meantime, it has become increasingly obvious that 3M was dumping this junk all over the place around Morgan and Lawrence. Reporting by WHNT’s Chelsea Brentzel has turned up a number of dump sites and forgotten illegal releases into local waterways. 

Both the City of Decatur and Decatur Utilities, along with 3M, are defendants in two lawsuits over the chemicals seeping out of landfill areas and into waterways. A number of council members and prominent residents in Decatur have called on the city to file cross-claims against 3M and Daikin. 

So far, that hasn’t occurred. In fact, the opposite of that has occurred. 

Last week at a council meeting, council members were presented by the city’s attorney with non-disclosure agreements to sign concerning the ongoing legal matters with 3M. The matters the council members weren’t allowed to discuss if they signed the NDA included potential health risks to the public. 

Get that? If 3M revealed in court documents in these legal matters that the Brookhaven site, for example, contained contaminants that could kill small children, the council members would have been legally bound to keep that info quiet. 

They didn’t sign it. 

And I’d like to thank them for that. Because it’s very likely that this poison has been making people — our friends, neighbors, family members and even our pets — sick for decades. 

It’s time for people to know what’s what. To know where it was dumped and where it seeped into water. To know whether the unexplained cancer or thyroid issues might finally have an explanation. 

Or to simply know that everything is safe. 

And we’d really appreciate it if someone would clean up this mess.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Environment

Bidens suggest that Hurricane Sally due to climate change

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, released a joint statement this week on Hurricane Sally, suggesting that the hurricane and fires in the West are due in part to or exacerbated by climate change.

“Jill and I are praying for everyone from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and up the East Coast into the Carolinas as Hurricane Sally unleashes fury and flood that are leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power and evacuating their homes and businesses,” the Bidens wrote. “Our hearts are also with everyone in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and across the West who have lost everything and the firefighters and first responders who are risking their lives as the wildfires rage on and ash falls from an orange sky.”

“Every year the devastating impacts of climate change — in billions of dollars in damage, in immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods — sets new records of destruction in big cities, small towns, on coastlines, and farmlands across the country,” the Bidens wrote. “It is happening everywhere. It is happening now. And it’s all happening while we fight off a historic pandemic and economic recession.”

But it doesn’t have to be this bad, the Bidens wrote.

“We have to come together as a nation guided by science that can save lives,” the Bidens wrote. “And grounded by economics that can create millions of American jobs — union jobs — to make us safe, stronger, and more resilient to a changing climate and extreme weather that will only come with more frequency and ferocity.”

“And we have to keep the faith in the capacity of the American people — to act, not deny, to lead, not scapegoat, and to care for each other and generations to come,” the Bidens concluded.

Hurricanes are not new to the Alabama Gulf Shore. Since 1852, at least 27 hurricanes have hit the state of Alabama gulf coast, with Katrina in 2005 being the most recent until Sally on Wednesday.

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By comparison there were four hurricanes to strike the state between 1912 and 1917 and five between 1852 and 1860.

Democrats claim that President Donald Trump’s policies on climate change are having a negative effect on the planet and that a Biden administration would be better at reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.

Biden and Trump will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

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Environment

Plume site under downtown Montgomery removed from EPA superfund priority list

Josh Moon

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Downtown Montgomery (STOCK PHOTO)

A toxic plume that formed underneath several blocks of downtown Montgomery is being removed from the EPA’s superfund priority list after years of cleanup efforts have reduced the threat to the public, the agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced on Wednesday. 

Known as the Capital City Plume, the 50-block area of contaminated groundwater and soil covered much of downtown Montgomery and required millions of dollars in remediation costs. The city, county and a coalition of downtown businesses took control of the site in 2015, in an agreement with the EPA, and sped up cleanup efforts. 

The site was first discovered in 1993 and the EPA took control shortly thereafter, but very little remediation occurred because the agency could not definitively identify businesses that were responsible for the contamination.

The city’s agreement with EPA put to rest the issue of responsibility and allowed for a shared responsibility that apparently resulted in faster cleanup. 

“This is validation of all the hard work by many parties – city, county, state, federal and business entities – over many years to address and resolve a real environmental challenge,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “It couldn’t have happened without all the parties deciding we needed a plan to tackle the problem and agreeing to work together to carry it out. Now, this area of downtown Montgomery that has already seen significant redevelopment and reuse can blossom even more.”

The removal of the site from the National Priorities List should also remove burdensome and costly testing that hampered additional growth in many areas of downtown Montgomery. 

“This announcement charts a path forward for our community and is essential to our vision for a stronger, more vibrant downtown core,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said. “We commend the collaboration and steady resolve of the Alliance, ADEM, the EPA and everyone involved in doing what is right for our city and our region. Moving forward, we are committed to continue building on this success as we expand economic opportunity and progress in Montgomery.”

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The Downtown Alliance, as the collection of businesses, city, county and state government entities was known, was the brainchild of former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and attorneys negotiating with the EPA. At the time, it was a first-of-its-kind agreement.

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Environment

Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall

Brandon Moseley

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(ALABAMA TOURISM DEPARTMENT)

Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.

Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.

Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.

At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.

Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.

“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”

Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.

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The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.

Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.

Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.

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Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.

Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.

Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.

The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.

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Environment

Alabama fishermen will get extra red snapper days in October

The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Friday that after completing a review of the 2020 private angler red snapper season that ended July 3, 2020, they determined that three additional days can be added to the private angler recreational season. The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

The additional red snapper fishing days apply to state of Alabama waters as well as federal waters adjacent to Alabama. The limit will be two fish per angler with a 16-inch total length minimum size.

ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division reviewed landing estimates derived from angler reports submitted through Alabama’s Snapper Check system and determined that additional days are available in order to achieve the 2020 red snapper quota.

“The 2020 private angler season started out with record setting fishing effort,” said MRD director Scott Bannon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made outdoors recreation more important than ever, and that showed during this year’s red snapper season. That higher level of early season effort ultimately led to the closure on July 3. It is important to our fishermen to provide access to this resource, and our goal is to fish the quota we’ve been given by NOAA Fisheries. We are excited to offer these additional days in October to harvest more red snapper and still stay within our quota.”

Bannon said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds. The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.

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“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”

Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.

“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

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Detailed red snapper landing information is available online. Red snapper is arguably the most desired fish for saltwater fishermen to take home for the freezer. Consequentially the species is prone to overfishing. Limits on red snapper are designed to prevent the fish from being overfished.

Saltwater anglers, as well as freshwater anglers and hunters, may renew their hunting and fishing licenses beginning today.

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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