3M admits to unlawful release of PFAS in Alabama

Diagram of the chemical structure of perfluorobutane.
Chemical structure of perfluorobutane.
Image Credit: Chemical & Engineering News

American multinational manufacturing company 3M acknowledges its role in releasing the perfluorinated chemical known as FBSA illegally into the Tennessee River. Manufactured in 3M’s Decatur, Alabama facility since 2009, the company states it released this chemical and possibly another derivative into the waterway, which supplies drinking water to thousands of people.

In agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, 3M was allowed to manufacture perfluorobutane sulfonamide (FBSA) under the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act with the condition that the company did not dump the substance into any national waterways.

According to 3M, this agreement was not upheld. Not only did the company’s facility in Decatur, Alabama release FBSA into the Tennessee River, but officials state a derivative of FBSA may have also contaminated the waterway. This secondary chemical is known as FBSEE and was also included in the 2009 agreement with the EPA prohibiting its release into waterways.

These chemicals are used by 3M to make water- and stain-resistant products. Both fall under the class of chemical pollutants known as per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), comprised of many environmentally persistent contaminants. 3M agreed to pay $35 million to fund a new filtration facility to compensate for the Tennessee River contamination. This was a result of a lawsuit settled between the 3M company and a Decatur area water utility in April. 3M’s confession regarding its failure to comply with the EPA’s order came weeks prior to the settlement.

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