Alabama city files lawsuit against Dalton carpet manufacturers for contaminating water
When a drinking water source becomes contaminated with toxic chemicals, who is responsible to fix it?
That is the question at the center of a lawsuit filed by the Water Works and Sewer Board of Centre, Ala., against 35 carpet manufacturers in Dalton.
The lawsuit states wastewater from carpet plants contains two chemicals used for making carpets stain resistant, PFOA and PFOS. That wastewater is treated by Dalton Utilities, then pumped into the Loopers Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant. Water from the treatment plant ends up in the nearby Conasauga River, eventually leading to the Coosa River basin in Alabama, where Centre gets its water supply.
The lawsuit states the chemicals are known to cause numerous diseases, including cancer, when they show up in high amounts of drinking water. The city wants the carpet manufactures to fix the problem, and compensate them for damages already done.
"These chemicals can be harmful," said Joe Cook, with the Coosa River Basin Initiative. "They are very persistent in the environment. When they are released into the environment they stay out there for a real long time."
Centre started testing its water after the EPA issued a health advisory in 2016 stating the chemicals should be kept to a minimum in drinking water. Since then, Centre found levels exceeding the federal guidelines, and have had to buy their drinking water from another source.
Cook says it's a property rights issue.
"If somebody upstream does something to the river that harms my use and enjoyment of that river, do I have the right to ask them to pay to fix the problem?"
Cook has studied this area's river system for decades. He says the water here is actually much better than it was twenty or thirty years ago.
"Tremendous strides have been made in the Dalton area in treating the wastewater that's coming out of the carpet facilities," Cook said. "We are continuing to improve, but clearly this new issue has come up that we weren't necessarily aware of previously that we are now finding out this is something we need to address."
Junior Roberson grew up in Dalton and has worked in the carpet industry nearly all of his life. He lives across the street from the Loopers Bend facility where the carpet plant wastewater is treated. He has never had a problem with the water.
"It may have been in years past, but I find it hard to believe these days with as much restrictions is on all the plants and stuff here in Dalton to keep it from happening," Roberson said. "The EPA is out here all the time checking stuff."
The carpet companies we reached out to today did not comment.
But several of them did respond to a similar suit from Gadsden, Alabama in federal court.
In their response, Shaw industries denied the P-F-C's they use end up in their facilities' wastewater in "high levels."
We checked on any other affected water supplies downstream from the plants in Dalton, but so far, the only cities with lawsuits are in Centre and Gadsden.
Read the full lawsuit here: