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Denmark Water (copy)

Denmark residents line up beside a warehouse on Coker Street to pick up donated bottled water.

DENMARK – The founder of the grassroots group Denmark Cares is calling on Gov. Henry McMaster and other state and local officials to "recognize the examples of environmental injustice which exist around Denmark’s water quality issues, and view all policy decisions through a lens of environmental justice.”  

Letitia Dowling, in a certified letter mailed Jan. 7 to McMaster and forwarded to other officials and the media, said that while the non-Environmental Protection Agency approved chemical HaloSan is no longer being used to treat Denmark's water, citizens still don't believe the water is safe to drink.

"More citizens are refusing to use the public water supply due to treatment by this chemical and discolored water as a result of Denmark’s severe issues with iron bacteria and aging water infrastructure,” Dowling wrote.

In November, CNN reported HaloSan was used for a decade in one of the city's four wells, trying to regulate naturally occurring iron bacteria that can leave red stains or rust-like deposits in the water.

Denmark residents for years had complained about the discolored water while city and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials continued to assure them the water was safe.

In the wake of the CNN report, two class-action lawsuits were filed on behalf of citizens, one of them seeking water bill reimbursement and alleging the local government had no right to make people pay for water that was not potable.
 
Dowling, in her letter, invited the governor and other officials to come to Denmark to observe what is going on there and talk with citizens. She cited the city's predominantly African-American population and its high percentage of low-income households that are being impacted by the water quality issues.

Dowling called for the appointment of an independent advisory council of experts to provide recommendations on improving Denmark's water.

“Although the town of Denmark has discontinued the use of HaloSan, more investigation and action is needed. Although DHEC and town officials say the water supply is safe, sufficient scientific data has not been shared to support this claim,” she wrote, also calling for a health study and environmental impact study to be done.

“We oppose the use of unregulated disinfectant products like HaloSan in drinking water; our coalition demands solutions that are approved by the EPA and do not continue to threaten public health and harm our community,” Dowling wrote in the letter to McMaster.

She said Denmark residents "should have a seat at the table" when officials are considering adding chemicals to their drinking water, and she called for more timely communications from officials to the community regarding water issues. 

In a telephone interview, Tommy Crosby, state DHEC media relations director, said efforts are being made to condense scientific information from the agency's website to make it more understandable for citizens, with plans to create a one-page information sheet for residents.

“We will look to answer any questions that community members have, along with any questions that elected officials have, and will do our best to answer them to the best of our ability on any topic that falls within DHEC’s regulatory authority," Crosby said.

He said any citizen from Denmark can request to have the water in their home tested by DHEC.  

Denmark Cares will continue to meet and work with local and state officials on long-term solutions to the city's water quality issues and aging water system, Dowling said.

“Denmark Cares is focused on providing opportunities for conducive conversations that are safe and productive. We have elected to ... limit participation (at meetings) in an effort to care for individuals who desire to have conversations in an environment that is considerate and respectful of all opinions and concerns," she said.

“At the heart of our mission is care, compassion and respect, to find solutions and make progress.”

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Contact the writer: rbaxley37@gmail.com.

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