"The Battle for Decatur"

"PFAS Contamination Divides an Alabama Town"

"It was early afternoon when Paige Bibbee got the text from an anonymous number. Bibbee, the president of the Decatur City Council, was supposed to have a call later that day with Barney Lovelace, an attorney who represents the small Alabama city on several matters. But the screenshot of the email that someone sent to her phone in May made it clear that Lovelace was hoping he wouldn’t have to work with her in the future.

In the email, which Lovelace had sent four months earlier to recipients identified simply as “lawyers,” he explained that he and the president and then-chair of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce were hoping to find candidates to run against Bibbee and another member of the city council named Charles Kirby. Lovelace described a plan to influence the August 25 election from “very deep behind the scenes.” While he sought suggestions for possible challengers to Bibbee and Kirby, Lovelace said that he and the two chamber officials felt that “the effort to recruit good, electable candidates, and to help fund their campaigns and educate them about how to run a campaign, should probably be done by a group independent and separate from the Chamber.”

According to Bibbee, the issue that turned Lovelace against her and Kirby was contamination from a class of industrial compounds known as PFAS. The chemicals, which persist indefinitely in nature and have caused widespread contamination of water and soil in the area, are linked to cancer and other diseases. The law firm where Lovelace has worked for 37 years, Harris, Caddell & Shanks, represents Decatur in litigation over contamination from the toxic compounds. Lovelace needs the council’s signoff on the final decision on the litigation, and both Bibbee and Kirby have expressed concern publicly that he is unwilling to stand up to the polluters. “Charles Kirby is just as outspoken as me on the 3M issue,” Bibbee said. “So Barney knew right off the bat that with us, he had two ‘nos’ without breathing hard.”"

Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept August 23 2020.

Source: The Intercept, 08/25/2020