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Welcome To Alabama: Don’t Drink The Water

It’s not just Detroit. Communities in many states face a drinking water crisis, and Alabama is no exception. Last month, the news broke that eight Alabama water systems are contaminated.  Hundreds of thousands of customers are at risk, including more than 100,000 people in North Alabama:

Water in some North Alabama water districts isn't safe to drink.

“I recommend that all our customers do not drink our water, until we are able to bring the temporary system our engineer is designing online,” Sims said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

That temporary filter is expected to be completed in September at a cost of around $4 million. The plans call for a granular activated carbon system that forces water through six box-car sized filters before sending it on to customers.

The water authority plans to construct a permanent filter that is expected to be complete in 2019. Authorities at the press conference did not speculate on the cost of the permanent filter system, but Sims previously told AL.com it could cost between $30 and $50 million

So these small local water systems are potentially on the hook for a lot of money, so they’re looking to recoup some of the costs from the entities that caused the problem.

Water from the West Morgan East Lawrence plant comes from the Tennessee River, downstream from the Decatur area, where 3M and other industrial operations manufactured these chemicals or used them to make consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabric, and fire-fighting foam. 

You have to love the company lawyer’s explanation:

“In any event, we believe the claims against 3M – and recent actions taken by the water authority – are based upon the mistaken belief that the mere presence of these chemicals equals harm.”

Translation: “Yep… we spewed chemicals into the air and water and now the drinking water isn’t safe to drink. But don’t assume that the presence of toxic chemicals in your water renders it unsafe to drink.”

Alabama isn’t the only state dealing with this problem.  Other states have been battling contamination from PFOS and PFOA for years.

A target of a lawsuit filed in Alabama last year, 3M vigorously defends itself. According to the company, it’s all Alabama’s fault!

William A. Brewer III, a partner in the firm representing 3M in PFC-related litigation, said that 3M “absolutely and vigorously” denies all charges in that suit — and any others that “describe what 3M did as polluting.” While the complaint says that 3M’s emissions of the chemicals into water were “not authorized or permitted by the state,” Brewer disagreed, arguing that “100 percent of 3M’s conduct has been permitted by the state,” which he told me undermines the idea that 3M is responsible for any leakage that might have resulted. “When you take your waste or some of it and you deliver it some place that the state tells you you can bring it and then they turn around and tell you it wasn’t properly managed, we just deny that we have responsibility for other people’s conduct.”

Well, they have a point. Alabama’s environmental laws are notoriously lax and getting worse.

And the state legislature this past session didn’t even see a need to adequately fund the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

In a sometimes contentious budget hearing on Wednesday, officials from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) alternately begged legislators for more funding and threatened them with the possibility of a takeover by the “political” Environmental Protection Agency.  Governor Bentley’s budget proposal zeroes out all funding for ADEM, with the expectation that the agency will increase fees enough to support itself.

But let’s go back to the people in these affected communities.

We have a state that can’t even adequately fund basic state services. Do the 100,000 people in these affected water districts now face the prospect of paying for their own bottled water? Surely, Alabama – the state that can’t even fund our own Department of Environmental Management – can’t pay the bills.  Hell no… we’re too busy paying for abortion and bathroom lawsuits to worry about pregnant women and children drinking tainted water.

This is the high cost of “limited government,” folks. We pay the bills while industry profits.

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