Settlement agreements between 3M and several entities, including the city of Decatur and Morgan County, were announced on Tuesday, potentially ending years of lawsuits over “forever chemical” contamination in the area. 3M could potentially pay out $98 million, according to the agreements, which were posted online by the City of Decatur.
The announcement comes a day after the EPA announced its intentions to crack down on PFAS pollution — the type of chemicals produced and dumped by 3M in several locations in the Decatur and Morgan County area. The EPA’s new guidelines would allow dump sites, such as the ones in Decatur, to be classified as SuperFund sites, and the EPA would have the authority to force companies responsible for the pollution to undertake extensive and expensive remediation projects.
The agreement with Decatur/Morgan County seemingly avoids such a situation for 3M.
That agreement puts to rest two lawsuits — one filed in 2002 by a former 3M employee and another filed in 2016 by an environmental group, Tennessee Riverkeeper. It includes payouts to Decatur, Decatur Utilities and Morgan County, with the largest portion, $35 million, going to build a new recreation center and indoor pool complex.
That new complex will replace the city-owned Aquadome, which currently sits atop what was once a landfill where 3M dumped PFAS-contaminated waste. Testing at the site, which is adjacent to a former middle school, showed high levels of PFAS contamination in the soil at both the Aquadome and school. 3M agreed to purchase the school in 2020 for $1.25 million.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, 3M will also take ownership of the Aquadome site and 25 additional acres. Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling told the Decatur Daily on Tuesday that he wasn’t sure what 3M planned to do with the property, which currently has several baseball and softball fields on it, but said company officials mentioned plans to turn it into a park.
The location of the new rec center has not been announced.
Another $25 million in the settlement will go to the city, county and Decatur Utilities to reimburse them for costs already incurred to address dump sites.
An additional $22 million will go to cap cells at the Morgan County Landfill, where PFAS contaminants are seeping into the Tennessee River. Those caps likely won’t end all leachate from the landfill, but officials said they hoped it would significantly reduce it.
And the attorneys get paid — a lot. The city’s attorney, Barney Lovelace, and his firm, Harris, Caddell and Shanks, will get $7 million. Attorneys for the other plaintiffs in the case will get $51 million. Those funds, the attorneys were quick to point out, were not part of the settlement agreement.
In a separate settlement with Tennessee Riverkeeper, 3M agreed to a number of monitoring and remediation steps that will continue well into the future. The company also agreed to fund the environmental group’s efforts to monitor PFAS contamination in the area by setting up a fund that will allow Tennessee Riverkeeper to hire experts and conduct testing.
Both the company and Decatur and Morgan County officials praised the settlement as a move forward for the city. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which will be responsible for ensuring 3M sticks to many of the terms of the deal, said it was pleased to hear of an agreement but that the agency had not yet reviewed it.