Editor’s note: Deanna Miller Berry of Denmark Citizens for Safe Water speaks with the People’s Tribune about the fight for safe water in Denmark, SC. The article was written prior to the city’s highly successful “Water for Humanity” protest on January 26. The People’s Tribune was there to support and report on the effort, and will have more about it in upcoming issues.
“Never would I have dreamed we would be the only city that has poisoned our citizens with non-EPA approved chemicals in the water,” says Deanna Miller Berry. “We rank in the top two in South Carolina for kidney disease, cancer, and dermatitis issues. We rank as one of three poorest cities in the state, and number one for having the heaviest population of African Americans and minorities who live within the city limits.”
Complaints about the water in Denmark have been going on for years. Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, who has made numerous trips to Denmark testing water in people’s homes, has offered to test the town’s wells, but the city’s mayor refuses. In addition to findings of lead and other toxins, reports from the University of South Carolina say that residents have been drinking water that contains HaloSan, a chemical used in pools and spas to disinfect and kill bacteria in water, and that it has been used for ten years. HaloSan is classified by the EPA as a pesticide. It has never been tested on humans or animals. After its discovery last summer, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the EPA did a cease and desist order to force the city to stop using the chemical.
“Now the city is blaming DHEC and DHEC is blaming the city,” says Deanna. “No one wants to own up and accept responsibility. Ours is the first time that public officials have used this poison—and that’s what it is—to treat and sanitize its water system. The key thing is that neither the city of Denmark nor DHEC informed the citizens that we’ve been using a chemical that we should not have used. Our right to be informed was violated. In addition, no one has been able to tell us how much of the chemical was injected into the water.
“Prior to 2013, the city was failing miserably with EPA fines. DHEC said that as long as you pay your fines, we’re not going to take this to the next level. Suddenly, in 2013, after the mayor was re-elected, the city started paying their fines. Then they started passing tests and got awards from DHEC for fixing their water infrastructure issues. But neither DHEC nor the city could provide us with proof that they did fix it. They’re getting these awards, but the citizens are still sick. They’re still experiencing the brown water, and the price gouging on water bills as high as $1,000. When you challenge the bills you are basically told to shut up. Now we found out that HaloSan eats up lead, E-coli, arsenic, bacteria, iron, manganese, any kind of contaminate. So on record, there’s no proof. But our infrastructure has endured 10 years of sitting in this bleach chemical, and is completely corroded. As soon as water hits our infrastructure, we’re contaminated. The only way to get rid of it is to get rid of the pipes.
“We’re a city of maybe 3,200 people. The only thing we know to do is unite, stand up and fight the legal way and get as many people as we can to join our fight. So on January 26 we’re sounding the alarm! We’re having a big protest and rally —Water for Humanity, Justice for Denmark. We’re fighting for safe drinking water; for those who are responsible to face criminal charges for the cluster of deaths and illnesses from the water; and we’re fighting for those who have died. We’re fighting for justice. We’re the mighty 3,000!”