3M Co. has entered into a consent order with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that requires the company to clean up "forever chemicals" from its Decatur plant and from numerous waste sites in Morgan and Lawrence counties, ADEM announced today.
According to ADEM, the consent order requires 3M to assess and remediate waste sites containing per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, or PFAS. PFAS are referred to as "forever chemicals" because they do not degrade in the environment.
"In addition, the company must install specialized water and air control equipment, put in place a system of investigations, monitoring, notifications, testing and research to track the pollutants, determine their health risks and impacts on the environment, and develop best practices for managing the cleanup and containment of the compounds," according to the ADEM statement.
While several states have sued 3M over the pollutants, ADEM general counsel Shawn Sibley said his agency preferred to use a consent order.
“Lawsuits can be tied up in the courts for years, which can delay work to clean up the sites and safeguard public health," Sibley said in a statement. "A consent order doesn’t rely on new federal regulations, which are likely two or more years away. In short, this is the quickest and surest route to accomplish the goals of reducing public exposure to PFAS now and preventing exposure in the future, while holding 3M accountable.”
3M also issued a statement which said it committed in the consent order to resolving "matters related to previously disclosed (PFAS) discharges at 3M's Decatur facility, and furthers the company's comprehensive program investigating and performing appropriate remediation of soil and groundwater in the area."
PFAS are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. While the health effects of most PFAS are poorly understood, research on two that have been in use the longest — PFOA and PFOS — links the chemicals to “adverse health outcomes in humans,” according to the EPA.
According to a report by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, health risks associated with the chemicals include kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, decreased response to vaccines, asthma, decreased fertility and decreased birth weight.
According to 3M's statement Friday, the consent order requires the company, under ADEM oversight, to:
• Design and install additional state-of-the-art treatment technologies to help remove PFAS from process wastewater entering the environment from the Decatur plant;
• Implement a water minimization program to reduce 3M-Decatur's water consumption; and
• "Build upon 3M's existing commitment to identify, investigate and perform appropriate remediation of legacy contamination of soils and groundwater at sites where materials from 3M's facilities are located."
3M is currently evaluating several disposal sites in Morgan and Lawrence counties, including a covered 40-acre dump beneath Aquadome Recreation Center and the former Brookhaven Middle School. Decatur City Schools recently reached a settlement with 3M over contamination of the Brookhaven property which included sale of that property to 3M.
According to ADEM, the consent order does not prevent other parties from pursuing claims against 3M. Numerous lawsuits are pending against the company related to PFAS.
“This interim consent order is the most far-reaching and significant enforcement action to date taken in regard to PFAS in the country,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in the statement. “It protects the public from both past and future contaminations, and puts Alabama ahead of the game in regulating these harmful compounds. This agreement expands ADEM’s ability to control PFAS beyond what would otherwise be available. ...
"3M will pay what it takes to fix permanently whatever PFAS problems it created, in addition to the requirements for investigations and research on any effects of PFAS on public health and the environment.”