Tennessee Riverkeeper starts cleanup project in Decatur

The organization told WAAY 31 it is also getting closer to resolving the lawsuit against 3M and other major companies in Decatur.

Posted: Jan 21, 2019 9:48 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2019 9:10 AM

An environmental organization told WAAY 31 it's closing in on a resolution to the lawsuit against 3M and other big companies. The legal fight is over contamination of the Tennessee River. The source of those contaminants is industry in Decatur.

Meanwhile, the group, Tennessee Rriverkeeper, started a new program to start cleaning up parts of the river. Seventy-one trash bags worth of garbage and plastics were collected from the banks of the Dry Branch Creek in Decatur Monday. The creek flows directly into the river.

Volunteer Pat Underwood helped clean up the roughly 1,700 pounds of litter. He said the problem of trash flowing into the river is on the same level as chemical contamination, "We're not separate from the contaminates and the litter. It's all part of the same issue," said Underwood.

The Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit against Decatur's 3M plant, and others, is now six months into negotiations. The goal is to clean up potential cancer causing chemicals from the river, "Mediation can be a lengthy process and unfortunately this mediation is going to last at least a year and we're in a holding pattern; waiting to see what the defendants are willing to do," said Tennessee Riverkeeper spokesperson David Whiteside. 

A spokesperson for 3M told WAAY 31 he can't comment on the ongoing litigation, but said the discussions are productive. He also said the company, "Continues to make significant investments to our operations in the Decatur area related to PFAS."

PFAS are the chemical contaminants 3M poured into the Tennessee River for decades. The company said the investments include improvements to West Morgan East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority to remove questionable compounds from drinking water.

Right now, the authority has perhaps the cleanest water in the region, but it's had to spend millions to pay for a problem created upriver by 3M and other companies.

Underwood said the companies aren't the only ones responsible for the cleanliness of the river. Everyday folks can help too, by being more conscious of what you do, "People in their heart and in their mind make that decision to maybe use reusable grocery bags, or to not use a straw, or to not throw their cigarette butts out their window," said Underwood.

The Tennessee Riverkeeper organization plans to have cleanup projects like this once a month moving forward. The projects will focus on getting micro-plastics out of the river. Those are plastics they claim are toxic to people and are created when things like plastic bags break down.

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