3M to Pay $98 Million to Settle Claims It Contaminated Tennessee River With Toxic Chemicals

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
October 20, 2021 Updated: October 20, 2021

Industrial conglomerate 3M said on Oct. 19 that it has agreed to pay $98.4 million to resolve suits over “forever” chemicals, or chemicals resistant to breaking down in the environment.

The U.S. company agreed to the payout to settle claims that it had contaminated the Tennessee River in north Alabama with the toxic chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

It agreed to resolve a lawsuit by environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper and a separate class action by residents of Alabama’s Morgan County. The company also negotiated a private settlement with Morgan County; the city of Decatur, where its local facility is based; and Decatur’s utility provider.

All three involved the company’s manufacturing and disposal of PFAS at its Decatur industrial site in Morgan County.

“3M has reached a collaborative agreement to resolve ongoing litigation and negotiations related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) near 3M’s Decatur, Alabama facility,” the company said in a statement, adding that the agreements are subject to final approval.

The company, which hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing, offered no additional comment when contacted by The Epoch Times.

The news came a day after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would set limits on PFAS, some of which have been linked to cancer, liver damage, low birth weight, and an array of other health problems.

The chemicals have been used for decades in household products such as nonstick cookware, stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpets, cleaning products, paints, water repellents, and fire-fighting foams. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences, PFAS chemicals gradually accumulate and generally remain in a body over time “due to more intake than excretion of the chemicals.”

A study published in June in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology Letters found that the toxic chemicals have been detected in more than half of commonly used cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame analyzed more than 230 commonly used cosmetics. Some of the highest levels of the man-made “forever” chemicals were detected in waterproof mascara, at 82 percent, and long-lasting lipstick, at 62 percent.

“PFAS is a persistent chemical—when it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates,” lead researcher Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at Notre Dame, said. “There’s also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.”

Responding to 3M’s announcement, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said in a statement that the settlements “will fund improvements that will make the environment in Decatur and Morgan County healthier.”

“We appreciate the importance of our relationship with our neighbors in Decatur. Through this agreement, we can resolve these matters and take action that will strengthen Decatur for the future—a great thing for 3M and this community,” Michelle Howell, Decatur site director, said in a statement. “We will continue to take collaborative action for communities where we live and work, our employees, and their friends and families.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.