3M has admitted to inadvertently — although substantially — underreporting the amount of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals or PFCs that it released into the Tennessee River in Alabama. Instead of reporting the amounts in micrograms per liter, it reported them in milligrams per liter. That mistake resulted in the amount being underreported by a factor of 1,000. A milligram is a thousandth of a gram, while a microgram is a millionth of a gram.
Minnesota-based 3M says it found the discrepancy during an internal review. The underreporting allegedly occurred between the final quarter of 2012 and the first half of 2016.
According to the company’s legal counsel, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) had been accepting reports in milligrams per liter, but it changed the metric when it switched over to an electronic system. The 3M counsel also stated that the revelation has nothing to do with the pending legal cases in Alabama.
However, an April 20 letter to ADEM by a 3M environmental engineer says that, although the company provided its data in milligrams per liter before the switch, ADEM had been recording it in micrograms with no conversion.
ADEM has filed a federal lawsuit against 3M and other manufacturers for excess PFCs found in the Tennessee River.
Another lawsuit alleges that PFCs found in the drinking water of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority in Decatur, Alabama, caused cancer and other health problems for at least 24 customers. The water authority had to issue a no-drink warning last year. PFC levels in its finished drinking water exceeded federal guidelines for lifetime exposure.
The water authority has installed a temporary filtration system which appears to be working. The lawsuit seeks money for a more permanent solution, among other relief.
An environmental group known as Tennessee Riverkeeper has also filed suit against 3M and other manufacturers. The group says it is not surprised by the revelation of 3M’s underreporting.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper has known all along that the 3M Company was discharging horrendous amounts of PFCs through their wastewater treatment plant and we were aware they were using a mixture of (micrograms per liter) and (milligrams per liter) to report this pollution,” said the group’s president.
If 3M and/or other manufacturers have been releasing unlawful amounts of PFCs into the Tennessee River, and if those chemicals cause harm to human beings, this situation could result in many more lawsuits. When a company produces a product or byproduct that causes harm to a large group of people, it is sometimes referred to as a “toxic tort.” People who believe they may have been harmed by toxic torts should discuss their situation with an experienced law firm.