A Decade of Pollution – 3M’s Illegal Perfluorobutanesulfonamide (FBSA) Releases into the Tennessee River in Alabama
I am Taylor Hawkins, a Senior at NJIT graduating with a B.S. Computer Engineering in December 2020. Growing up across the southern U.S. and spending many years in Northern Alabama, I wanted to find an environmental justice site that would expand my knowledge of the area I grew up in. I used to spend weekends out on the Tennessee River in Decatur, AL water skiing, tubing, and swimming with friends. When I discovered that 3M had been polluting that area with FBSA chemicals, I felt drawn to discover the effects the pollution had on people who lived in the area, and those like me who spent years in those waters.
Project Site Description:
3M admitted in an April 2019 letter to the EPA that it had been illegally releasing FBSA and FBSEE chemicals into the Tennessee River from the company’s Decatur, AL manufacturing plant, although it had been barred from doing so under the US Toxic Substances Control Act as part of an agreement to allow the production of the chemicals starting in 2009. These chemicals are used to make stain-resistant coatings and have been found to stay in the environment for extended periods of time, which is troublesome as the Tennessee River provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people. I want to discover what effect FBSA and its derivatives have had on Northern Alabama residents, specifically those that are forced to live in close proximity to the pollution due to income disparity or existing social disparities. Further, I want to examine the socio-economical structures that allowed the pollution to persist seemingly undetected for ten years. This project is significant because the location of the manufacturing plant and its illegal chemical releases may have been a strategic decision to expose populations with less political and social power due to their inability to make important decisions in their community.
Keywords: Water, Pollution, Factories, Race, Toxics