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New Report Ranks Alabama Second-Worst in Drinking Water Pollution

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Gigi Douban

The 3M plant has been named in multiple water contamination lawsuits near Decatur.

Alabama has the second-highest number of water systems in the nation where contaminants called perfluorinated chemicals or PFC’s have been detected in the drinking water, according to a new report. The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, in conjunction with researchers at Northeastern University, released the findings today showing the extent of US drinking water pollution.

PFC’s are toxic chemicals that have been linked to illnesses from cancer to thyroid disease. And for decades they were used to manufacture things like non-stick cookware and fabric stain protectors. Alabama has 15 public water systems where the US Environmental Protection Agency has detected these toxic chemicals, plus three more sites with known contamination. David Andrews, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, says Alabama’s ranking has to do with the number of contaminated water systems, related lawsuits, and media coverage of the affected communities. “And this is partially due to the presence of a large manufacturing facility in the state,” Andrews says.

That large manufacturing facility is 3M, maker of Scotchgard and other products, which lawsuits contend is the source of contaminants in the Decatur area. The other two Alabama contamination sites listed in the report were in Etowah and Cherokee counties.

Much of the data in the report is based on EPA samples. Andrews says there are no federal regulations on these chemicals in drinking water. The EPA only issues guidelines. So he urges residents to get their water tested through the local utilities, and to push state lawmakers to implement protections.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated for clarity to reflect the city of Ft. Payne’s water system is not part of the contamination site.)