DENMARK, SC (WIS) - It's been a living nightmare for a couple living in Denmark who says they've been living with contaminated water for the last decade.
Pauline Brown and Eugene Smith said the water stains their clothes and irritates their skin. The couple also said their complaints to the city have gone unanswered.
So, they reached out to an outside source who has offered to test the water for free, but Denmark's mayor is saying "no, thanks!"
"I was itching. I was breaking out," Brown said. "You take showers in there and when you get out the shower you're itching. I itch all the – I even bought me a back-scratcher."
She says they first noticed an issue with their water back in 2009 when DHEC told them so.
"I saw on my phone 'U.S. Government.' So, I called them. She said that we had lead in the water," Brown said.
Not just high lead levels, but iron, manganese, and E. coli, too, according to a letter they received from DHEC.
"I remember they came out on a Wednesday," Brown said. "In fact, they even brought their own bottled water with them because they know the water was bad."
She says the city did make an effort to fix the problem after numerous complaints.
"All they did was hook good pipes to bad pipes and I'm still breaking out from the water, itching. It didn't help at all," Brown said.
"When you go and get your water out your faucet, it looks like this, but in the long run – when it settles and everything – it turns to this," Smith said.
Their ongoing water issues have forced the couple to drive one hour, roundtrip, to stock up on water from Healing Springs to drink, cook and bathe with. In 2014, Pauline saw coverage of the water issues in Flint, MI and a professor who helped to discover the issue.
"The water was not meeting federal safe drinking water standards even when the city was telling everyone that is was and it was part of what exposed the Flint water crisis," Virginia Tech Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Marc Edwards said.
Brown says she immediately realized, "I've got to call him."
And she did.
She sent Dr. Edwards water samples that he could test for himself, which was an easy task. Brown and her husband have been collecting and timestamping endless jars of water samples for the last 10 years.
"We've worked with them to find out that the water going into their home, at least, was indeed very toxic," Edwards said.
A discovery that made the professor question if there were issues with water in other parts of Denmark, but when he reached out to city leaders offering his testing services for free, the answer was no.
"There's just not any credible evidence that we have a serious problem with our water," Denmark Mayor Gerald Wright said. "I use it every day. So, it's fine. I drink it and I bathe in it."
The mayor says he's confident mandated testing of the water done by DHEC is good enough.
"The minimum sampling that's being done by DHEC and the town – we know that that often misses severe health problems, even if it's being done right, which in this case we're not even sure it is," Dr. Edwards said.
"I've been asked a question, 'Why not let him come in?' And my question to them is, 'Why have him come in?' We have qualified, competent staff at DHEC," Wright said.
He says he's familiar with Brown and her complaints about the water.
"She made similar claims several years ago and at that time we asked her to give us any documentation from physicians or her doctor if there was any connection between whatever her ailment was and water in Denmark," Wright said. "We have not received any reply to that."
Edwards says after testing the water provided by Mrs. Brown and DHEC that he did find issues with contamination, but none that would break the law. Meanwhile, other residents of Denmark say they have no complaints about the water.