Tuesday, September 26, 2023–10:14 a.m.
-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com
The 3M Company has joined E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company in seeking to block the City of Rome from releasing settlement information stemming from a water pollution lawsuit.
The 3M settlement stems from a 2019 lawsuit filed by the City of Rome to recoup the costs incurred to completely remove PFAS and PFOAS from drinking water pulled from the Oostanaula River.
The Rome City Commission approved the settlement during its Monday evening meeting.
According to Georgia law, once that settlement is approved it becomes public record. However, both 3M and DuPont have claimed the settlement falls under a designated trade secret exemption in the Open Records Act.
For its part, the City of Rome has promptly released the settlement documents for 27 defendants when requested. It has also taken the stance that the DuPont and 3M settlements are subject to the Open Records Act.
However, because of the lawsuit, those records are not being released, pending a court hearing.
In response to an Open Records Act request for the settlement on Monday, City Attorney Andy Davis said the city cannot produce the agreement yet, if at all.
“3M has indicated that it will object to the document being disclosed at this time. 3M states that it has an exception under the (Georgia Open Records Act),” Davis said.
The Rome News-Tribune, the City of Rome, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are all defendants in a lawsuit filed by E.I DuPont De Nemours and Company, The Chemours Company, The Chemours Company FC, LLC, DuPont De Nemours, Inc., and Corteva Inc. The companies — all spinoffs of DuPont — are seeking to block the publication of the terms of the settlement.
Dupont and its subsidiaries are suing in an attempt to prevent the release of their settlement amount — although a number of attorneys familiar with the Georgia Open Records Act consider the move merely a delaying tactic. Companies that use the toxic chemicals, which don’t break down in the environment, are being sued across the nation but Rome’s case is among the first to be settled.
“If the ‘protected information’ were to become public, Chemours’ competitors, actual and future litigants, and other commercial entities could potentially replicate, adopt or anticipate Chemours’ analysis and strategies, which would place Chemours at a competitive and business disadvantage in future and cause Chemours economic harm…,” an affidavit by Chemours attorney Mary Erin Mariani states.
The affidavit states that the company feels the disclosure of the dollar amount of the settlement with Rome would reveal their litigation strategy.
Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryan Johnson is scheduled to hear the matter on Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. in Courtroom D.
Now the St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M Company is seeking to do much the same.
3M is a U.S. multinational conglomerate that manufactures and distributes a wide range of products including building materials, adhesives, medical products, and home cleaning supplies.
The companies are the last of 32 defendants to agree to pre-trial payouts, which so far total over $159 million. As of a July financial report, the city has received just over $130 million of that money.
The settlements have allowed the city to roll back water rate hikes that had been sparked by the cost of filtering the PFAS family of chemicals from the water supply.
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.
Rome Water and Sewer Division Director Mike Hackett said they’re still in the design phase, but he believes the settlement overall isn’t going to entirely pay for the filtration plant.
“That’s not going to be enough. It’s really going to be more than that,” Hackett said earlier. “The reality is there’s not going to be any (money) left over. I just hope it covers the costs.”