3M: Toxins found in groundwater at old Lawrence County dump

Contractors began clearing trees in March in preparation for 3M Co.’s remediation efforts at a contaminated property on Lawrence County 222. A privacy fence was erected that now blocks the view of the closed landfill.

A preliminary 3M Co. investigation of an old dump site at 7644 Lawrence County 222 west of Trinity has determined the disposal area is confined to one acre and that an industrial chemical exceeds risk levels in shallow groundwater, the company said recently.

3M purchased the 11-acre property in August 2018. In a statement recently, 3M spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie said levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, only exceed U.S. EPA risk level calculations in shallow groundwater.

The groundwater, she said, flows away from adjacent residential properties, and nearby residences are all on city water rather than wells.

PFAS levels in the soil are well below EPA risk levels, she said.

“This site was owned by individuals involved in the waste-hauling business in the 1970s and 1980s,” she said.

The one-acre disposal site is on the northern portion of the property, according to the statement.

“This is anther example 

 

of how dangerous PFAS has spread from 3M’s plant site,” David Whiteside, executive director of the nonprofit Tennes-

keeper, said. “PFAS needs to be delineated and then expeditiously and thoroughly cleaned up.”

3M is continuing to investigate closed waste disposal sites at the former Brookhaven Middle School 

in Decatur, the closed Deer Springs landfill near Flint, at another disposal site west of Trinity and at a site on Old Moulton Road/Mud Tavern, Haile-Selassie said.

3M announced in July it would test the closed waste disposal sites for PFAS. It said at the time that some of the sites date back to the 1950s, and that they were closed with in compliance with then-current regulatory requirements.

Last month, 3M filed a document with ADEM outlining its plans for evaluating and monitoring the old Deer Springs Landfill along Deer Springs Road. 3M noted in the document that runoff from the site feeds into West Flint Creek, and that PFAS are among the potential pollutants.

“We are committed to working with ADEM and the City of Decatur to make sure that all of these properties, which were closed decades ago, are rigorously sampled and tested,” Michelle Howell, plant manager of 3M Decatur, said in today’s statement. “It’s important that, if necessary, the water and waste be treated according to 21st century waste management standards, and we intend to do just that.”

Fifteen minutes after 3M issued its statement, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued a statement regarding 3M’s cleanup efforts in Morgan and Lawrence counties.

“ADEM continues to assess, investigate, and monitor 3M as they continue to test various soils, groundwater and surface water associated with these sites. The initial data collected and assessed indicates that PFAS has been detected during the preliminary testing,” according to the ADEM statement.

ADEM said there are few if any residential drinking wells affected by the 3M sites, but the company is working with ADEM and the Alabama Department of Public Health to identify any such wells. 

“ADEM has requested that 3M provide testing to owners of private drinking water wells — at no cost — that may be impacted. 3M has agreed to do this, so private well owners who may be affected will be contacted in the near future in order to sample their wells,” according to the ADEM statement. 

The most studied chemicals in the PFAS family are PFOA and PFOS. 3M no longer produces the two chemicals, which it once used to make products including Scotchgard, but past disposal practices on the company’s riverfront Decatur property along State Docks Road have caused PFOA and PFOS to leach into the groundwater and enter Bakers Creek and Wheeler Reservoir, according to ADEM filings.

High levels of PFOS in fish tissue have resulted in the Alabama Department of Public Health issuing consumption advisories for Bakers Creek and much of Wheeler Reservoir. The state does not test fish for PFOA.

PFAS are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.

According to a report issued last year 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.

The chemicals have been detected in breast milk and umbilical cord blood, according to the report.

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