I-TEAM UPDATE: City blames citizens for Denmark water problems

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

DENMARK, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- DHEC met with a select group of citizens in Denmark. The meeting was invite-only and our I-TEAM was not on the list.

News 12 senior investigative reporter Liz Owens has been reporting about the contaminated water for over a year and tried to get into that meeting to get answers.

When Liz Owens arrived at the front door, it was locked but she saw state vehicles in the parking lot. The person who asked DHEC to come to town told News 12 she wanted this meeting private because public meetings with media are derailed and have not been productive.

Tractor trailers usually roll right through Denmark. But lately, semi trucks have been making stops in this town frequently. A semi is making the fourth water delivery from Walmart since Denmark's dirty secret became public. Families living here drank the town's water for more than a decade before learning the city had been using halosan, essentially a pool chemical, to treat it.

About a mile away...

Deanna Miller: "I learned about the meeting in the midnight hour."

....representatives from the agency many blame for the water crisis...

Liz Owens: “Do you think this was handled the correct way?"
Deanna Miller: "No, honestly I don't."

...meet behind a closed and locked church door.

Deanna Miller: "It's not fair to the people that more people weren't informed and would have been here."

Deanna Miller found out about the meeting after a friend sent a link. A citizens group called Denmark Cares created the event. It states meeting with DHEC, other agencies, school, college leaders and government leaders by invitation only.

Liz Owens: "Nobody knew about this?"
Deanna Miller: "Yes and I think if they were planning on doing a meeting like this I would think it would be really important for them to include a larger scale of citizens."

DHEC, Department of Health, and a member of the city council met with select citizens. Despite public figures in attendance and the public topic on hand, the organizer told us media was not allowed in.

"It appears Denmark Cares is collaborating with DHEC to figure out a way to gain the trust of citizens."

She was able to get inside through an unlocked side door.

Deanna Miller: "In one meeting we were at several weeks ago with city council they were blaming DHEC. This meeting they're in there blaming the city."

We don't know for sure who suggested the use of halosan but we do know DHEC approved it.

Deanna Miller: "They said the city has to be held accountable and the city is responsible and they don't want to bring the city to the table."

The person who called this meeting is related to the mayor.
News 12 was told at this closed-door meeting, someone asked DHEC for help changing Denmark's public perception, maybe by saying something nice about the community.

Deanna Miller: "It appears Denmark Cares is collaborating with DHEC to figure out a way to gain the trust of citizens."

In the meantime, citizens continue to line up for bottled water because they still don't trust what's coming out of their sink.

So far, two lawsuits have been filed against the city. Another advocacy group is planning a march for access to safe drinking water. That will take place in two weeks.

Tuesday, Nov. 20th, 2018

DENMARK, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Neither DHEC or the City of Denmark will take responsibility as the party that suggested using an unapproved chemical in the town's drinking water. More than sixty people have joined in a class action lawsuit against the city but their attorneys are not ruling out naming DHEC as a defendant yet.

Each step leading up to the lawsuit was more difficult than the last. Pauline Brown wiped away tears as she talked during a meeting with their lawyers and citizens. "They tried to tell me to go back to Miami. They said I am crazy," Brown said.

Brown isn't crazy. It turns something was in the water. In 2008, the City of Denmark asked DHEC to re-open an old well. But, there was a problem. The water at the Cox Mill well l was orange.

Liz Owens: "So who recommended this system and this specific chemical?"
DHEC: "We don't really know."

HaloSan is not EPA approved but DHEC approved it. The chemical is often used as a pool disinfectant. Denmark used it to get rid of the orange in its water. "It was on NSF approved list for the chemical so we approved it," DHEC told our I-Team. The Public Health and Safety Organization, or NSF, tests products for potential health risks. HaloSan is NSF certified which means the non-profit group found it safe to use in drinking water. Again, the federal government has not approved the use of the chemical in drinking water.

Liz Owens: "Reading through all of this it appears someone dropped the ball? Did you guys drop the ball?"
DHEC: "We did not drop the ball. Our state regulations require us to go back to the NSF list."

Even if HaloSan was EPA approved, again it is not, NSF warns HaloSan in "drinking water should be monitored." But, the City of Denmark didn't monitor it and the state knew it, too. In a 2011 water survey, DHEC gave Denmark an unsatisfactory rating for failure to monitor the treatment system and failure to keep records of the levels of HaloSan going into the water. Then there is this, the power had been out the at Cox Mill for several weeks which meant the chemical alarm system was not working. The DHEC inspector warned at that time it "poses a significant public health risk." According to DHEC, the city fixed the problems by the following year.

"Ten years we've been telling people about this bad water but went in one year and out the other now I look around and I see everybody paying attention now," Eugene Smith said to the crowd at Monday's town hall meeting with lawyers. All eyes are on Denmark now and DHEC. Rep. Justin Bamberg has asked to start a committee to investigate how the chemical ended up in Denmark's water.

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