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3M to stop making PFAS chemicals that contaminate North Alabama water supply

New EPA regulations, not supported by Alabama’s GOP congressmen, are one of the factors that have affected the decision.

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3M will stop manufacturing toxic “forever chemicals” by 2025, the company announced in a statement days before Christmas.

The decision came as pressure has closed in from all sides including lawsuits, tightening federal regulations and investor expectations.

Multiple water supplies in Alabama have reportedly been affected by 3M’s dumping of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) chemicals, including the small town of Guin and the City of Decatur, where 3M’s two Alabama facilities operate. Gadsden Waterworks is also in an active lawsuit with the company over water contamination coming from the Dalton, Georgia plant. Decatur and the City of Centre Water Works are also in active lawsuits, all going on for more than five years, while the town of Guin settled a lawsuit with the company.

The chemicals have been linked to cancer and other adverse health impacts.

The 3M announcement cites regulatory crackdowns both from the European Union and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has indicated plans to place limits on PFAS in drinking water at current detection limits

The U.S. House of Representatives in 2021 passed a resolution for the EPA to designate the chemicals as a hazardous substance. The bill passed mostly along party lines, although 23 Republicans broke rank to approve the bill.

None of those came from Alabama, including Rep. Mo Brooks and Rep. Robert Aderholt, who represent the communities long impacted by 3M’s chemical dumping. Rep. Terri Sewell was the only “yea” vote from Alabama.

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The bill also establishes grants to help community water systems treat water contaminated by PFAS.

“Defendant 3M Company has long been aware of the persistence and toxicity of PFOA, PFOS, and related chemicals, yet it knowingly and intentionally continued to sell these chemicals to the carpet and textile manufacturing industry,” lawyers representing the Gadsden Waterworks and Sewer Board state in a 2016 complaint against the company. “Blood tests of 3M workers conducted in 1978 found elevated organic fluorine levels proportionate to the length of time the employees had spent in production areas. Furthermore, a 1979 3M study of the effects of fluorochemical compounds on Rhesus monkeys was terminated after only 20 days after every monkey, at every dosage level, died from exposure to the chemicals.”

In the suit, Gadsden Waterworks states testing since May 2016 has found PFAS levels to be consistently above the 0.07 ppm limit, and that the water’s filtration system is unequipped to deal with the contaminant.

“Due to the high levels of PFOA and PFOS found in its water supply, many of

Gadsden Water’s residential consumers have turned to alternate sources of drinking water, resulting in Plaintiff’s lost profits and sales,” the complaint states. “If the levels of PFOA and PFOS found in Plaintiff’s water supply continue to meet or exceed the 0.07 ppb EPA advisory limit, Plaintiff’s water system purchase customers will be forced to find an alternate water supply, resulting in further lost profits and sales.”

In addition to contaminating water supplies, there is also a lawsuit ongoing in the state, representing more than 100 individuals from across the country, alleging that the chemicals have caused cancer in firefighters due to its prevalence in “turnout gear” and aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF).

“This is not a new problem. Our congressmen and legislators should have known about this and if they didn’t, they chose not to know about it because it’s been in the public domain for plenty of time,” said Gary Anderson, one of the attorneys representing the firefighters in the suit.

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Anderson noted that 3M and other manufacturers pulling out of PFAS manufacturing is a good step, but doesn’t completely resolve the problems at hand.

“The cat’s kind of out of the bag,” Anderson said. “You know, all this stuff is here now. If they quit making it today, that’ll be good for 200 years from now, but we’re still dealing with the last 50 years of manufacturing. PFAS are not going anywhere without extensive remediation to remove them.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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