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City Utilities files suit against 3M

The James River east of Springfield (photo taken in May, 2024).
Michele Skalicky
The James River east of Springfield (photo taken in May, 2024).

The lawsuit claims PFAS from the 3M plant in Springfield are ending up in area waterways.

City Utilities has filed a lawsuit against 3M Company. The suit claims that 3M’s Springfield plant on E. Chestnut Expressway is unlawfully discharging pollutants into groundwater and area waterways, and that those pollutants “are presenting an imminent and substantial danger to human health and the environment.”

CU’s suit aims to stop the discharges, which it claims contain so-called forever chemicals or PFAS (pre- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and install technology at the CU Blackman Water Treatment Plant to remedy public health impacts.

City Utilities said in a statement that the PFAS chemicals "result from 3M having improperly handled spent fire-fighting foam from their on-site fire suppression system."

The suit claims that, during rain events, PFAS present in 3M soil and its stormwater system are washed into Jones Spring, Pearson Creek and the James River, including at CU’s water intake for the Blackman Water Treatment Plant. City Utilities takes water from the James River and treats it at the Blackman Plant. The lawsuit points to a sinkhole and other karst features adjacent to 3M’s facility through which it claims stormwater makes its way into ground and surface waters.

CU filed a separate lawsuit against 30 PFAS manufacturers, including 3M and DuPont which it said in a statement was “over their knowing manufacture and use of PFAS chemicals in a wide range of products despite hiding the risks of those chemicals from regulators and the public.”

"PFAS are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment. PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and the globe. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals."

CU said in the statement that the utility company began testing its water supply for PFAS in November, 2022. Over the last year, it detected a range of 3.1 to 16.0 parts per trillion PFOs, a chemical in the PFAS family, in the James River. In response, CU said it has taken steps since to keep PFOS in its drinking water below the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level of 4 ppt PFOs. Tap samples tested on March 5, it said, showed all PFAS levels below the new EPA levels.

UPDATE: 3M responded by email to KSMU with this statement: "As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS. 3M will address PFAS litigation by defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate."

The original story stated that KSMU reached out to 3M but had not heard back at the time of this story's publication.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.