Our firm is monitoring a situation in Decatur, Alabama, where sewage sludge from Decatur Utilities has been found to contain record amounts of Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs), specifically PFOA and PFOS. EPA’s Science Advisory Panel recommends that EPA classify PFOA as a likely human carcinogen, with numerous studies linking it to various cancers. Manufacturers use PFCs in making goods such as stain resistant carpet, microwave popcorn bags, and non-stick surfaces such as Teflon. The local sewage treatment plant in Decatur disposed of its sludge using the common practice of land application for fertilizer in Lawrence and Morgan counties. The sewage sludge has been land-applied as fertilizer for area farms for at least 12 years. It became the subject of one of the Bush administration’s last environmental advisories.
In November 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a drinking water advisory due to possible PFC contamination in private drinking wells. EPA officials say that about 100 people use the wells that may be contaminated by the sludge. Testing of those wells was scheduled to begin in February of this year. The EPA advises people, who are concerned that their wells are contaminated, to use bottled water or point-of-use filters, installed at the faucet, with granulated, activated carbon.
According to news reports, Decatur Utilities treated 5,000 acres of agricultural land with the sludge, also called bio-solid fertilizer, from its sewage treatment plant. The utility discontinued the treatment in November of last year as a result of the EPA investigation. But, it should be noted that Decatur Utilities was first made aware of possible problems eighteen months ago when an unnamed local industry notified the utility that it was discharging abnormally high amounts of PFCs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration also are involved in the investigation because the sludge-treated area is used for various types of agricultural production, including cattle grazing and crop production. The initial tests reveal that the soil contamination levels are between five and 25 times higher than drinking water levels. As a result of the contamination, the EPA recently requested information from fourteen companies, including 3M, Japanese-based chemical manufacturer Daikin, Toray Flurofibers, and Biological Processors of Alabama, Inc.
The Decatur case has prompted new interest in studying the health effects of PFCs and the EPA instituted drinking water limits in January in response to this case. This case and others call into question the 30-year policy encouraging use of municipal sewage sludge as a free alternative to commercial fertilizer. However, EPA officials instead of ending the give-away program, issued a statement saying these issues require strong national standards on sludge.
Lawyers in our Toxic Torts Section will continue to monitor the situation in Decatur on behalf of those affected by the contamination. Our firm has successfully represented clients in PFC cases nationwide. If you want more information, contact Rhon Jones at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or at 800-898-2034.
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