The second lawsuit over a small South Carolina town’s use of an unapproved chemical in its drinking water has been filed by Charleston attorneys who claim Denmark’s water is contaminated and too expensive for customers.
The suit against the town, filed over the weekend by the Harrell law firm, follows a meeting the firm held Friday night in Denmark. At the meeting with dozens of people concerned about their water, residents were told the water system is suspect and needs improvement.
The state lawsuit claims the water in Denmark has been “poisoned’’ with HaloSan, a chemical rarely, if ever, used in any other water system in the country. For 10 years, Denmark injected HaloSan into the drinking water, without many people’s knowledge, to kill iron slime in a town well.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency never approved HaloSan, raising questions about its impact on people’s health. Regulators at Clemson University ordered Denmark to stop using HaloSan this summer.
The Harrell suit, filed in Bamberg County on behalf of Deanna Miller Berry and Patrick Berry, also says lead and copper are polluting town water. It seeks repayment of money the customers paid for what the lawsuit calls substandard drinking water.
The suit says people are paying water bills higher than the rent or mortgage payments on their homes. The town demands many residents pay in cash, the suit said.
Denmark was “unlawfully collecting excessive amounts for poisonous water that is often never used,’’ the suit said.
Town and state officials have said tests show the city is in compliance with lead and copper limits in drinking water, and HaloSan was deemed safe by a national certifying agency, even though the EPA had not approved it. Mayor Gerald Wright declined to comment Monday night about the lawsuit, after the Town Council gave him authorization to hire a law firm.
Monday’s suit was filed on the same day that former state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, and his legal partners held their own community meeting to discuss the Denmark water situation.
During the meeting, a resident of Denmark held up a small plastic bottle of brownish water he said was pulled from a tap at his home Monday.
“Sometimes it is much worse,’’ Denmark resident Jimmy Funches said after the meeting. “It smells, like sewer.’’
Sellers and his partners, including Bamberg attorney Chris Wilson, said they intend to find answers for people frustrated by poor quality water. The Sellers-Wilson group filed a lawsuit last week against the town of Denmark. The suit made similar allegations as those in the one filed by the Harrell firm.
Lawyers for both the Harrell firm and the Sellers group are seeking class action status, meaning if they are successful, the town and the state could have to reimburse Denmark residents what they paid for water they say is not up to standards.
Sellers said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control also should be liable because it told Denmark that using HaloSan was OK.
“The money that you all paid to the city of Denmark for water should be returned to you, and it should be returned for the past 10 years,’’ Sellers told the crowd of about 75 at Voorhees College. “We do believe you are entitled to those funds back.’’’
Sellers, now a CNN commentator, said ‘”we know this has been a problem for a very long period of time.’’