Alabama school district plans to sue 3M over claims chemicals leaking from landfill

Published 10:19 am Monday, December 23, 2019

A north Alabama school system has taken the first step to sue 3M Co. over claims that chemicals are leaking from a closed landfill that is on school system property.

News outlets reported that Decatur’s school system has filed notice saying it plans to sue over industrial toxins leaking from the one-time landfill beneath the former Brookhaven Middle School. Chemicals are leaking into a creek, groundwater and the Tennessee River, the system contends.

An investigation conducted by a contractor for 3M and filed with the state environmental agency showed a 40-acre site was operated as a landfill from the 1940s until 1963. Aside from the former school, a playground, sports fields and a recreational center are located there.

The Minnesota-based company, which agreed to pay millions in a lawsuit over contamination in the Decatur area earlier this year, said materials were disposed of properly based on laws at the time the landfill operated decades ago.

A letter from the school system said it didn’t know the land was contaminated by materials from a 3M operation when it purchased it, The Decatur Daily reported. The system said it will ask a court to make the company clean up wastes and remove chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS.

Once used by 3M’s Decatur plant in the manufacture of Scotchgard and other nonstick products and coatings, the substances are in a family known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment.

The letter was from the same lawyers who represented West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority in a lawsuit against 3M and Daikin America LLC over drinking water contamination. Daikin settled for $4 million last year, and 3M settled in March for $35 million.

While the notice was required before any lawsuit is filed, the school system said it still hoped to avoid a court fight.

Billy Jackson, a City Council member whose district includes the old landfill, said the city should also consider action since it owns 25 acres of land at the old landfill site.

“We’re in no different situation than Decatur City Schools. We have to look at the safety and well-being of our citizens. We need to get it cleaned up,” Jackson said.