City Utilities Sues 3M Over PFAS Contamination in Springfield’s James River

missouri sunny summer james river valley lush green flowing water background

CU alleges that discharge from 3M’s East Springfield plant is seeping into groundwater and flowing into the James River. (Credit: Canva Pro)

by | Jun 5, 2024

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City Utilities (CU) of Springfield, Missouri, has initiated legal action against technology giant 3M, accusing the company of releasing harmful “forever chemicals” that contaminate the James River, a crucial source of drinking water for Springfield residents. The lawsuit underscores the critical importance of safeguarding water sources for public health and the significant challenges posed by removing such persistent pollutants from the water supply.

The Allegations

According to the 32-page lawsuit, 3M has discharged per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often called “forever chemicals,” from its East Springfield plant. These chemicals are making their way into the groundwater and subsequently into the James River, which CU relies on to treat and supply drinking water to the community.

“All the water here in the Ozarks is connected to the surface water and the groundwater, and all of our small streams drain to our larger streams,” explained Mike Kromery, Executive Director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks. “For Springfield’s drinking water supply, we have several sources like Fellows Lake and McDaniel Lake. Some water comes back from Stockton. But the James River is a very important source of our drinking water.”

Public Health and Environmental Impacts

The presence of PFAS and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), chemicals commonly used in fire suppression systems, has been linked to various health issues, including liver dysfunction. These chemicals are known for their persistence in the environment and resistance to degradation, hence the term “forever chemicals.” The lawsuit highlights that CU’s Blackman Water Treatment Plant lacks the technology to remove these contaminants effectively, and upgrading the facility would incur significant costs.

“The more polluted or dirty the water is, the more expensive it is to treat, and those costs ultimately are passed on to the ratepayers,” Kromery noted. “City Utilities is working to provide clean, safe, inexpensive drinking water. If that’s jeopardized, there are all sorts of negative impacts.”

Legal and Environmental Advocacy

3M has responded to the lawsuit by stating that the standards for PFAS have changed recently and that the company will defend itself in court. Meanwhile, local environmental advocates stress the importance of maintaining clean water sources and the broader implications for public health and the environment.

“Keeping our water clean here in the Ozarks really is dependent on the land, which is what we call the watershed,” Kromery emphasized. “Any type of pollution on the landscape can enter our groundwater system or our surface water system, and we need both for drinking water.”

Kromery also suggested practical steps residents can take to help preserve water quality, such as planting native plants, improving soil health, and ensuring water infiltrates the ground to recharge the aquifer.

The lawsuit by City Utilities of Springfield against 3M represents a critical step in addressing the contamination of a vital water source. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for environmental policies and corporate accountability regarding water pollution.

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