3M, Alabama Communities Reach $98M Pollution Settlement

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — 3M will pay $98.4 million to settle lawsuits over contamination from its chemical plant along the Tennessee River in north Alabama under an agreement announced Tuesday.

The agreement, reached through court-ordered mediation with local government agencies, 3M and other companies, would fund both past and future cleanup work and pay for efforts to find additional pollution from per- and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS chemicals in the area. The largest share of the money, $35 million, will go to replace a recreational complex built atop a contaminated landfill.

The city of Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities still must approve the settlement. A public meeting was scheduled for next week on the agreement.

3M said it also was resolving a suit involving Tennessee Riverkeeper, an environmental organization, and other litigation involving pollution from PFAS, a substance which has been used in products worldwide since the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Decatur plant was a major manufacturer of the chemicals for decades.

The chemicals are used in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, water repellant clothing, cosmetics and firefighting foams. They may cause problems including increased risk of cancer, decreased vaccine response in children, increased cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure and lower birth weights in children, according to the CDC.

The lawsuits claimed 3M and other companies disposed of industrial waste laced with PFAS, which then contaminated the river and numerous sites in Morgan County. The substance is no longer made in the United States.

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said the agreement would help remedy long-standing issues.

"This settlement will fund improvements that will make the environment in Decatur and Morgan County healthier. We are pleased that 3M is funding the development of a replacement rec center that adds a quality of life benefit for the whole city,” he said in a statement.

Michelle Howell, director at the 3M plant in Decatur, said the company "will continue to take collaborative action for communities where we live and work, our employees, and their friends and families.”

3M settled a lawsuit by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority for $35 million in 2019, the Decatur Daily reported. The water system alleged PFAS contaminated its drinking water after entering the Tennessee River from a landfill, groundwater and runoff.