August 2023 Vol. 78 No. 8



3M reaches $10.3 billion settlement over water contamination with ‘forever chemicals’ 

Chemical manufacturer 3M Co. will pay at least $10.3 billion to settle lawsuits over contamination of many U.S. public drinking water systems with potentially harmful compounds used in firefighting foam and a host of consumer products, the company said. 

The deal would compensate water providers for pollution with per- and polyfluorinated substances, known collectively as PFAS. Described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade naturally in the environment, PFAS have been linked to a variety of health problems, including liver and immune-system damage and some cancers. 

The compounds have been detected at varying levels in drinking water around the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency in March proposed strict limits on two common types, PFOA and PFOS, and said it wanted to regulate four others. Water providers would be responsible for monitoring their systems for the chemicals. 

The agreement would settle a case that was scheduled for trial earlier this month involving a claim by Stuart, Fla., one of about 300 communities that have filed similar suits against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained. 

The settlement will be paid over 13 years and could reach as high as $12.5 billion, depending on how many public water systems detect PFAS during testing that EPA has required in the next three years, said Dallas-based attorney Scott Summy, one of the lead attorneys for those suing 3M and other manufacturers. 

Mountain Valley Pipeline urges Supreme Court to lift stays, resume construction 

Mountain Valley Pipeline has submitted a request to the U.S. Supreme Court to lift stays issued by a federal court that had stopped work on a section of its West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas pipeline. 

On July 10, a Virginia appeals court blocked work on the final short stretch of the 303-mile (488-km) pipeline that would have passed through the Jefferson National Forest, which is controlled by the federal government. Construction on that segment should cease while the court reviews the project’s federal approvals, the court ruled with environmentalists who were opposed to the project. 

Conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has long backed approval of the Mountain Valley project. In the debt ceiling agreement reached in May between President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, approval of Mountain Valley was also included. 

The pipeline is seen to be crucial for releasing greater gas supplies from Appalachia, the country’s largest shale gas producing zone, according to Reuters. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled in June that construction of the project could restart. 

The debt agreement passed by Congress stated that the pipeline was in the national interest and “expressly stripped all courts” of jurisdiction to review decisions made by federal agencies regarding its approval, according to Mountain Valley, who claimed that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to halt construction. 

Equitrans Midstream, the principal partner in developing the pipe, together with NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison, AltaGas, and RGC Resources control portions of Mountain Valley. 

OSHA cites Chicago company for fatal trench collapse 

Federal workplace safety regulators have cited a suburban Chicago plumbing company for a trench collapse last year in which a worker died. 

Nikodem Zarembra, 27, of Elmwood Park, was buried for more than an hour and stopped breathing while in the trench in Buffalo Grove on Dec. 12, authorities said. He died later at a hospital. He was trying to fix a residential water line at the time of the collapse. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors determined his employer, Rooter Solutions Inc. of Burr Ridge, failed to install cave-in protection in the trench and did not require head protection, the agency said. 

The trench was about 13 ft. long, 9 ft. wide and 8 ft. deep, OSHA said. Protective systems are required for trenches that are deeper than 5 ft. 

The company was issued a citation for one willful violation and one serious violation with proposed penalties of nearly $36,000, WFLD-TV reported. 

Oregon City pursues water pipeline upgrades for reliability during earthquakes 

The Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) in Oregon has announced the start of work on a series of pipeline enhancement projects to improve system reliability in the event of earthquakes. 

One of the largest projects will be the construction of transmission lines from newly constructed earthquake-resistant storage tanks. Welded steel will be used for the transmission main, while ductile iron will be utilized for smaller water pipes and is anticipated to have a lifespan of more than 100 years, according to EWEB. Multiple anti-corrosion barriers will increase durability, it said. 

EWEB said it will upgrade a half-mile section of six-inch cast iron pipe to eight-inch ductile iron pipe and replace a 14-mile section of 12-inch cast iron pipeline with a new 12-inch ductile iron pipe. A six-inch to eight-inch main line improvement and pipeline loops will also improve water flow for firefighting operations, the agency said. 

Consumers energy proposes new buried power line program to strengthen Michigan grid 

Consumers Energy is proposing a targeted undergrounding pilot program pending approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission. The program is meant to help the company better understand how to bury power lines in a cost-effective way to strengthen Michigan’s electric grid and reduce outages. 

The pilot will study real-world resiliency improvements that result from burying power lines, and how those improvements compare with other approaches to improving electric service for nearly 2 million Michigan homes and businesses. 

Based on results from other states and energy providers that have moved overhead lines underground, Consumers Energy estimates it can improve resiliency 90 percent along circuits where lines are buried. 

“Historically, the costs to bury lines have been too expensive, but we have driven down the cost per mile to be equivalent to above-ground hardening costs,” said Greg Salisbury, Consumers Energy’s vice president of Electric Distribution Engineering. “This pilot will help us learn even more about how to bury lines in ways that keep costs as low as possible, allowing us to bury additional lines in the future.” 

Consumers Energy said it aims to place 400 miles of line underground annually. Today, about 15 percent of Consumers Energy lines are underground, and most are in subdivisions and areas with high population density. 

Tennessee to allocate $300 million for statewide water infrastructure statewide improvements 

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is issuing 131 grants worth nearly $300 million to cities across the state for various water infrastructure repairs and upgrades, with funding to come from Tennessee’s American Rescue Plan. 

Collaborative grants were issued to areas such as Blount County, which, in a partnership with the South Blount County Utility District, will use more than $7 million of plan funds to improve water mains and sewer line extensions, among other water infrastructure projects to increase water security and decrease contamination, according to WVLT. 

Non-collaborative grants will be issued to areas like Hamblen County, who will use over $5 million in funding to create asset management plans to improve the county’s drinking water and stormwater systems. 

Supreme Court rules against Navajo Nation in Colorado River water rights case 

The Supreme Court has ruled against the Navajo Nation in a dispute involving water from the drought-stricken Colorado River. 

States that draw water from the river — Arizona, Nevada and Colorado — and water districts in California that are also involved in the case had urged the court to decide for them, which the justices did in a 5-4 ruling. Colorado had argued that siding with the Navajo Nation would undermine existing agreements and disrupt the management of the river. 

Writing for a majority made up of conservative justices, Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained that “the Navajos contend that the treaty requires the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Navajos — for example, by assessing the Tribe’s water needs, developing a plan to secure the needed water, and potentially building pipelines, pumps, wells, or other water infrastructure.” 

But, Kavanaugh said, “In light of the treaty’s text and history, we conclude that the treaty does not require the United States to take those affirmative steps.” 

St. Louis-area sinkhole traced to collapsed sewer pipe 

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District has determined that the large sinkhole in the city’s Dogtown area was caused by a collapsed sewer pipe, and not a water main break, as previously believed. 

Sean Stone, an MSD spokesperson, attributed the cause to accumulated debris in the old pipe combined with added pressure from recent storms according to local Fox 2 news. Poor soil characteristics were also a factor in the sinkhole, he said, noting that repairs had previously been made to that part of the roadway, resulting in loose and sandy materials. 

Stone said the district was working to determine the extent of the damage and planning for the removal and replacement of the affected section. UI 

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