3M Co. said Monday that it will begin drilling and collecting deep-soil samples in Alabama next week as it searches for PFAS chemicals it dumped decades ago at a former landfill site that later became a middle school.
The soil and groundwater tests at the now shut Brookhaven Middle School property in Decatur, Ala., will begin Jan. 20, according to 3M, which manufactures PFAS chemicals and other products at a Decatur factory.
The start of the tests comes weeks after the city of Decatur notified Minnesota-based 3M of its intent to sue for abatement costs after Decatur found high levels of PFAS chemicals on the Brookhaven property.
3M said in July that it would test the surface soil of three former Alabama landfills that date back to the 1950s for possible PFAS chemicals. A 3M spokeswoman said Monday that 3M has now decided to drill much deeper at the former Brookhaven landfill site so it can learn if PFAS chemicals seeped into groundwater that sits far below the surface of the land.
The three former Alabama landfills were subject to government oversight, closed decades ago in accordance with state and local rules, and were released from regulatory monitoring back in the 1990s, 3M officials said in July.
But recent soil tests and fresh findings of PFAS contamination have freshened concern and monitoring, especially since one of the former landfills went on to become the site of a school.
The scrutiny of the Brookhaven property is erupting months after 3M agreed in April to pay a $35 million settlement to the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority in Alabama that supplies drinking water to rural areas just outside Decatur. In September, 3M idled part of its Decatur plant so it could work with regulators on compliance issues related to PFAS by products that 3M had discharged into the Tennessee River.
Those issues are considered separate from what was found at Brookhaven, 3M spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie said.
On Monday, 3M acknowledged its beefed up Brookhaven investigation while also insisting that Decatur's drinking water is safe. The company said drinking water for the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Brookhaven Site is supplied by Decatur utilities, not private wells.
3M also said Decatur Utilities has publicly stated that its tests for PFAS in the water supply have been at non-detectable or near non-detectable levels.
Even so, the finding of more PFAS in Alabama soil has caused concern. In recent years, PFAS contamination plumes have been discovered at 1,361 sites nationwide, according to the advocacy firm The Environmental Working Group.
3M has manufactured various types of PFAS chemicals for more than 70 years. The chemicals were discovered to have contaminated streams and rivers in West Virginia and Ohio beginning in the 1990s.
Since then, PFAS has also been detected in water and soil near PFAS factories; in tanneries, electroplating and other plants where PFAS was a key ingredient; at chemical dumpsites and near military bases where PFAS-laden firefighting foams were used in training exercises.
3M settled with the state of Minnesota in February 2018 and agreed to pay $850 million to clean up PFAS contamination sites and filter water at sites mostly in the East Metro region of the Twin Cities. PFAS contamination in Minnesota largely involved 3M's manufacturing facility in Cottage Grove plus landfills where 3M dumped PFAS-laden waste.
The disposal sites were in Oakdale, Woodbury, Cottage Grove, and Lake Elmo.
This month, a new Congressional House Bill passed that seeks to label PFAS chemicals "hazardous" and mandate that PFAS manufacturers share clean up costs. President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the legislation, should it pass the Senate.
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.