Settlement in PFAS water suit moves forward

Sunday, June 4, 2023–12:56 p.m.

-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-

A trial between the city of Rome, carpet manufacturers, and chemical companies in a water pollution lawsuit has been officially canceled after all parties agreed to settle out of court on Friday.

That means approximately 500 prospective jurors were notified Friday they’d not be serving jury duty on Monday and could return to their summer plans, Floyd County Superior Court Clerk Barbara Penson said.

While the move isn’t a surprise after city attorneys notified the Rome City Commission of the settlement on Tuesday, it’s another step toward an end to the process.

What that settlement means, in the end, remains to be seen.

A Bloomberg News report that cited unnamed sources estimated the settlement will amount to more than $100 million and the lawsuit seeks to recoup some, or all, of the costs incurred by the city and water department customers to completely remove chemicals from the PFAS family from drinking water.

That $100 million figure is the approximate cost to build a new reverse osmosis filtration plant to remove the chemicals from Rome’s drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019, involved 50-plus defendants. As of Friday, all of the defendants have now settled although the total financial measure of those settlements isn’t expected until later this year.

While the financial aspects of those settlements are worked through, Rome water customers will continue to pay the increased rates intended to pay for the new water filtration plant.

The City Commission approved a four-year cumulative 9% water rate hike in February 2022 to pay for the new plant, which is expected to be located on Riverside Parkway.

Rome’s water and sewer systems are funded by their customers, not general tax dollars, which means that the initial cost, alongside another $3.07 million annually in operating costs, fell to ratepayers.

However, that may change in the next few months after a definite figure from the settlement is determined.

Other lawsuits in U.S. District Court are still working their way through the system. One is nearly identical to the city’s lawsuit. The lawsuit, Johnson v. 3M, et. al., filed in the Northern District of Georgia federal court, accuses manufacturers in Dalton — including 3M, Mohawk, Shaw Industries, and others — of dumping chemicals heavily used in carpet production in the river.

Several of the defendants filed a motion this Wednesday, seeking U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg to dismiss the proposed class action suit. This won’t be the first time that effort has been made, Totenberg denied another motion to dismiss the case in 2021.

Another federal lawsuit, Parris v. 3M, et. al., makes the same allegations regarding forever chemicals dumped into the Chattooga River.

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