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Denmark Council

Residents long concerned about the quality of their drinking water packed a November 2018 Denmark City Council meeting following a CNN report that the chemical HaloSan was used to disinfect one of the wells that supplies the city’s water system. The chemical is not approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for such usage.

DENMARK -- The City of Denmark has been ordered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to pay a $4,000 fine to the agency by Aug. 2 for its "failure to properly operate and maintain the public water system."

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DHEC's Bureau of Water's Drinking Water Enforcement Section issued Denmark Mayor Gerald Wright a consent order July 3 citing a number of deficiencies in the city's public water system discovered during a sanitary survey of the system April 2.

The seven-page consent order was effective starting July 2.

In the consent order, DHEC has concluded the city "violated the State Primary Drinking Water Regulations." The consent order is not citing the city's water quality but the water system.

The consent order requires the city to pay the $4,000 penalty within 30 days for not addressing DHEC's previously cited deficiencies in the city's water system.

The order also gives the city set deadlines in order to address the various deficiencies cited in the order.

"The water quality is fine," Wright said. "The consent order is a part of the process that ensures the water quality is fine. When they (DHEC) ID's things that need to be done or corrected, we immediately take care of it."

Wright said the city is "working through" the process and addressing the issues cited by DHEC.

He expressed his confidence the city will comply and will address the issues in the time window required by DHEC.

"Everything that was requested of us will be done," he said.

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DHEC performs sanitary surveys on all public water systems every one to five years depending on the system’s classification. Based on a survey result, the system is rated satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

In a survey in January 2019, the Denmark water system was rated "needs improvement."

Problems cited in the January survey included the testing of areas where the water system and sources of contamination can enter the water supply and potentially affect water quality.

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Valve and hydrant maintenance was also cited as "needs improvement." The city has approximately 180 hydrants that are maintained in connection with fire flow testing. Maintenance needs were noted for each hydrant at the time of testing.

"The system must address these maintenance needs and update the documentation by the next sanitary survey,” the January DHEC report said. "Most concerning are the tank maintenance issues that have been rated unsatisfactory for more than a year, with only minor improvements," DHEC officials told Wright in a letter to the mayor following the January survey.

In a follow-up survey conducted in April, the city received an unsatisfactory rating due to ongoing operation and maintenance issues that were not addressed per DHEC's earlier citations.

Deficiencies sited in the April 2, 2019, survey included:

  • Annual testing of water contamination prevention (backflow) devices was not conducted in 2018 and 2019 at several locations including Denmark-Olar Middle School and Voorhees College. No replacement schedule was in place for non-testable backflow devices. The item was rated "needs improvement" during the January 2019 survey.
  • Malfunctioning hydrants identified during a fire flow test in November and December 2018 had not been repaired or replaced.
  • A water flushing program had not been developed at Voorhees College in its master-metered distribution area. The deficiency was noted during the January sanitary survey.
  • Storage maintenance deficiencies at the Voorhees and Nibco elevated storage tanks were not addressed and the city had also not addressed its plans to fix maintenance deficiencies at the Bamberg County Industrial Park elevated storage tank.

DHEC didn't receive an improvement plan from the city on these tanks by the March 4 deadline forcing a rating of unsatisfactory for the maintenance of the water system's storage tanks.

While the unsatisfactory rating was not related to water quality, the deficiency was considered significant requiring DHEC is taking an enforcement action.

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In May, DHEC held a "Notice of Enforcement Conference" with city officials to discuss the violations in a closed-door meeting.

The possibility of the issuance of a consent order was discussed during that meeting.

In addition to the $4,000 fine, DHEC's consent order also:

  • Requires the city to take the Bamberg County Industrial Park elevated storage tank out of service from the city's water distribution system.

"The owner (city) understands and agrees that if the Bamberg County Industrial Park elevated storage tank is ever to be placed back in service, the owner must notify department staff immediately of their intent," the order states.

Denmark water system unsatisfactory

The order also notes that before coming back online the tank would need to be inspected, that all recommended repairs be completed and that a final report from the contractor verifying the work is complete would be submitted to DHEC.

City officials have expressed their desire to take ownership of the storage tank, which is currently owned by the county, in an effort to receive grants to improve its water system.

City officials believe if they owned the tank grant funding would be more easily accessible. The tank would help provide the city more 

The city has informed DHEC that it would like to fix the tank if the county agrees to sell. If the sale does not go through, the city will stop using the tank.

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  • Requires 30 days for the the city to submit a written request with the intended use of a well that has already been disconnected from the city's water system. The well will be considered abandoned if the city's request is not approved.
  • Requires the city in 180 days to formally abandon two other wells that have already been disconnected from the water system.
  • Requires the city in 180 days to survey the water system to ensure the system is properly functioning and to make sure all water contamination prevention safeguards are in place. As part of this, the city will need to make sure a maintenance schedule is in place for the system.
  • Requires the city in 180 days to make sure its valve and hydrant maintenance program is properly functioning and a comprehensive mapping of the water system to entail wells, water plants, storage tanks, valves, hydrants, line locations, line sizes and meter connections.
  • Requires the city in 180 days to update the procedures manual with programs that accurately reflect the current configuration of the public water system
  • Requires the city in 180 days to complete all the repairs to the Voorhees and Nibco elevated storage tanks per the March 29, 2019 elevated storage tank inspection report. A final report from the contractor verifying the work would also need to be submitted.

The order states that "failure to comply with any provisions of this order shall be grounds for further enforcement action ... to include the assessment of additional civil penalties."

The DHEC order comes as Denmark has continued to be in the national spotlight about water quality.

CNN first reported in November 2018 that the chemical HaloSan was used for a decade to kill iron slime in one of the city's water wells.

While the chemical is approved for use in drinking water, it’s not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide for use in killing iron bacteria in drinking water.

DHEC defended its use of HaloSan noting the chemical was approved by the American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation and deemed safe.

City officials have always said the water is safe to drink. DHEC officials have also said the water meets EPA standards. DHEC's report was substantiated by other agencies that also tested the water.

Following CNN's report, two class-action lawsuits were filed against the city by citizens, some of them seeking reimbursement of their water bill payments.

Volunteers with Denmark Citizens for Safe Water, with the help of the Orangeburg and Barnwell Walmart stores, have distributed thousands of cases of donated bottled water to residents worried about the city’s water quality.

Several Democratic presidential candidates such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and author Marianne Williamson have cited the water concerns in the city. Sanders has even donated water to the city.

County economic development officials have said media reports on the city's water system have caused industrial prospects to look elsewhere.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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