Rome News-Tribune: Water suit settlements total $159 million, so far

Wednesday, June 28, 2023–10:00 a.m.

-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-

Settlements in ongoing negotiations concerning the release of toxic chemicals into Rome’s waterways have reached just under $159 million, with five more defendants expected to finalize their portions of the lawsuit later this year.

The lawsuit sought to recoup some, or all, of the costs incurred by the city and water department customers to completely remove PFAS and PFOAS from drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019, involved 32 defendants including Shaw Industries, 3M, Daikin America, Secoa Technology LLC in Dalton, Mohawk, Aladdin Manufacturing Co., Engineered Floors LLC and Dalton Utilities.

The finalized settlements with 27 defendants in the case, obtained through an open records request, represent only a portion of the total settlements. Agreements with larger chemical companies, like 3M, DuPont, The Chemours Company and others, are expected to be finalized and announced in September.

The settlements are allowing the city to roll back water rate hikes incurred from the cost of filtering the PFAS family of chemicals from the water supply.

That rollback effective on Sept. 1 will mean approximately $10 to $15 in savings each month for the average Rome water customer, according to City Manager Sammy Rich.

The settlement funds also will cover the construction and maintenance of a reverse osmosis water treatment facility to completely remove the chemical from the city’s main water supply, the Oostanaula River. The estimated cost of that facility — to be located on Riverside Parkway — is approximately $100 million.

As part of the agreement, the city will not raise rates due to PFAS issues in the future.

At this point the city is not issuing refunds stemming from past rate hikes, pending the resolution of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court filed by Rome resident Jarrod Johnson. City Attorney Andy Davis said they expect a settlement in that case will address refunds.

Also, as part of the settlement with the city of Dalton and Dalton Utilities, Dalton pledge to take “reasonable steps to prevent the current and future release of PFAS from the (land application system) into the surrounding waterways.”

The LAS is a massive 9,000-plus area of land where the chemicals have been sprayed over a period of years in order to disperse them. The lawsuits allege those chemicals filtered into the Conasauga River and then to the Oostanaula River.

The settlement states Dalton will seek input from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enact PFAS mitigation processes in the near future.

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