Results of West Morgan-East Lawrence, 3M lawsuit settlement revealed

3M and the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority released the following joint statements.

Posted: Apr 26, 2019 9:27 AM
Updated: Apr 26, 2019 6:50 PM

The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority will get a new filtration system, a joint statement on a lawsuit settlement between it and 3M reveals.

Read the statement below:

3M and the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority released the following joint statements.

“3M Company, Inc. (3M) and West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority (WMEL) are pleased to announce that they have settled the lawsuit between them in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Both parties are grateful for the cooperation and work that has gone into getting this settlement finalized.

“This settlement will allow for a new filtration system at WMEL. WMEL will continue to supply safe drinking water that meets all applicable PFAS guidelines without passing on any additional construction or treatment costs – a great thing for WMEL and its customers in Morgan and Lawrence Counties.

“This settlement pertains only to the lawsuit between WMEL and 3M. Now that the litigation between WMEL and 3M is concluded, neither 3M nor WMEL will make any further statements.”

The water authority sued the maker of post-it notes, accusing them of contaminating their drinking water by dumping cancer-causing chemicals in the Tennessee River.

WAAY 31 talked with customers about what the settlement means for them.

“Thank goodness I don’t have to buy any more bottled water!”

That was Marteen Blankenship’s response when WAAY 31 told her about 3M and the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority finally coming to an agreement.

“I’ve been kind of afraid to drink the water," Blankenship said. "We bought bottled water and we use it in our cooking.”

And Blankenship isn’t the only customer thrilled by the news.

“To know that it’s safe now to drink the tap is awesome," Katy Stover said. "We do give our dogs the tap, so it’s good to know that it’s safe for them now.”

A joint statement by both companies says the settlement will allow for a new filtration system at the water authority.

That new system will supply safe drinking water for all customers, and it won't result in a rate increase for those customers.

“It’s really big of them to take ownership of the mistake and to pay to fix it. I feel like they should," Stover said. "I feel like if you make a mistake, you should take responsibility for your actions and step up to the plate and fix it.”

Word of the settlement came just one day after 3M announced it would lay off 2,000 people worldwide.

It’s unclear if that includes jobs at the Decatur facility, or if it’s related to the recent lawsuit with the water authority.

Either way, Stover said she doesn’t want to see anyone lose their job.

“My dad works in a plant and if it was his plant that had done it, and he was going to lose his job over it, that would make me upset," Stover said.

In the meantime, customers are just glad they can finally drink their water without having to worry about any health issues.

“I’m excited that it’s over with and a lot of people who have been harmed from it, I hope this helps a little bit," Blankenship said. "Relief for everyone. Not just me, but all of the people that it affected.”

Terms of the settlement weren't released, but the water authority previously said that a filtration system could cost up to $50 million.

A federal lawsuit filed by residents is still pending.

From earlier in April:

The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority board of directors have agreed to settle their lawsuit against 3M in Decatur. The lawsuit accused 3M and others of contaminating the drinking water in the Tennessee River with potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

The director of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority, Don Sims, said he cannot comment about the settlement until they and 3M release a joint statement.

On top of the approved settlement with 3M, the board of the water authority also voted to borrow $30 million to build a reverse osmosis filtration system. Director Sims would not say if the borrowing of the money for the filtration system is linked to the settlement.

On Thursday, the board also voted to repeal the rate increase of $9 that would have been phased in over three years. Sims could not say if this is related to the approved settlement.

One man who lives around the corner from the water authority said he sees all of these developments as a good thing.

"It's better than not hearing anything and, yeah, the rates not going up, that'll be fantastic. I mean, who wants to pay more?" said Keith Waugh.

“We are thrilled that 3M is stepping up and that they are doing the right thing," Shanon Robertson added. "This is exactly what should’ve been done from the very beginning.”

Shannon Robertson is a West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority customer and says she knows all about their lawsuit with 3M.

After hearing a settlement was agreed upon on Thursday between 3M and the water authority, Robertson was relieved.

“It takes away the worry that we have about any kind of safety issues," she said.

That’s because, for several months, Robertson and her family felt they needed to limit the water they used in their own home, due to the potential of cancer-causing chemicals.

“We had bottled water. We looked into the whole-house filtration system," she said. "We brushed our teeth with bottled water.”

The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority implemented a carbon filtration system and tested for chemicals on a regular basis, but Robertson still worried that some chemicals weren’t being detected.

For a while, there was a plan to increase customers’ rates by $3 each year, for three years, to help pay for a $25 million reverse osmosis filtration system that would strip the water of virtually any questionable compounds. But that’s no longer the case.

The reverse osmosis filtration system is still expected to be implemented soon, but Robertson is grateful to hear that she won’t have to pay for it--saying she hopes that 3M will.

“If a person or an organization causes something to happen, then they should be the ones to pay for it--not the rate payers," she said. "And, so, this is extremely good news for the customers of West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority.”

WAAY 31 reached out to 3M for a statement regarding the settlement, but we're still waiting to hear back.

We wanted to know how much the settlement will be, but we were told 3M and the water authority will release a joint statement in the near future.

In 2018, the water authority also settled their lawsuit against Daikin in Decatur for $4 million.

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