This past week, CNN turned the world’s eyes toward the small town of Denmark, S.C.
Located about 50 miles from Augusta in Bamberg County, Denmark has a population of only about 3,000 people.
For more than a decade, Denmark’s residents were told that their drinking water was safe despite many locals complaining that the water had a suspicious rust color.
Some residents even began collecting water samples in jars, refusing to drink it.
They told local and state officials that something was wrong.
Finally, after a year-long investigation, CNN reporter Sara Ganim is forcing South Carolina officials to take the complaints by the residents of Denmark very seriously.
CNN discovered that the state government was adding a substance to one of the city’s four wells in an attempt to “regulate naturally occurring iron bacteria that can leave red stains or rust-like deposits in the water,” CNN reported this week.
“The substance, known as HaloSan, was not approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to disinfect drinking water,” Ganim reported. “It’s unclear what the effects of HaloSan might have been on the almost 3,000 people who live in this rural, tight-knit community, but a group of about 40 residents believe the water is to blame for illnesses and maladies they say they’re suffering from.”
According to CNN’s report, HaloSan is a chemical that’s typically used as a disinfectant for pools and spas.
Many experts believe it should not be added to drinking water.
However, in Demark, it was used in the public’s water for 10 years.
A spokesman for South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control tried to defend the chemical’s use to CNN.
“The Berry Systems HaloSan treatment unit had been advertised as an effective treatment in the control of iron bacteria and was certified,” Tommy Crosby, director of media relations for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, reportedly said.
Local officials appear confused about the matter.
“It was our thinking that it was an approved chemical to be used,” Denmark’s mayor, Gerald Wright, told CNN. “We rely totally on DHEC because they have the responsibility and expertise to test, monitor and advise.”
However, an EPA spokesperson told CNN that HaloSan is not approved to be used to treat drinking water.
“HaloSan has not undergone the necessary evaluations as part of the pesticide registration process and, therefore, EPA cannot confirm the safe use of this product for the disinfection of drinking water,” according to the EPA.
Apparently, HaloSan is capable of being a “significant eye and skin irritant.” The chemical also could cause “burning, rash, itching, skin discoloration/redness, blistering, allergic type reactions including hives/welts, allergic contact dermatitis, and bleeding,” according to CNN’s research.
If you are looking for a more scientific reaction, Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer and researcher, told CNN that he was “dumbfounded” when he tested one of Denmark’s wells.
“I did a thorough search, and I’ve never seen it approved for a public water supply before,” he said. “And the EPA approvals that I saw, none of them were for municipal potable water.”
“You have to make sure you don’t put too much of it in the water,” he added. “And there was no way that they could prove that they weren’t exceeding the recommended dose. There’s a maximum allowed amount, even for industrial applications. And they have no way of proving that, that level is not being exceeded.”
Joe Charbonnet, a science and policy associate at the Green Science Policy Institute, also told CNN that without knowing the concentration levels in the water, “it’s hard to know the health effects,” but “it could produce compounds that are toxic.”
Just hours after CNN reported its findings, The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., began pursuing the story, as well.
The newspaper also found that HaloSan had not been used by other drinking water systems across the country.
Most rely on chlorine products to kill bacteria, The State reported.
“I have never heard of its usage before,’’ according to one EPA official quoted in an email obtained by The State.
Edwards, the Virginia Tech engineer and researcher, began questioning the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control about the chemicals last May.
“Has feeding of this chemical previously been disclosed to Denmark residents?’’ Edwards reportedly asked DHEC officials in a May 24 email. “I was never told or read anything about this before.’’
Some Denmark residents became so concerned that they began driving 20 miles roundtrip each month to collect local spring water in cases of gallon jugs and used that water to cook, drink and brush their teeth, CNN reported.
Another Denmark resident was told by his doctor that the level of lead in his blood was high, and he should avoid his own water.
Could Denmark become the nation’s next Flint, Michigan?
It’s a real question that South Carolina local and state officials need to address right away.
Some of these Denmark residents are babies, small children, the sick and the elderly.
Do you remember when the inadequate schools in Denmark were the city’s biggest problem?
Let’s face it, South Carolina’s smallest and poorest cities need the most help.
And, right now, there is something rotten in Denmark.