For 10 years, a chemical not EPA approved was in their drinking water

Updated 11:11 AM EST, Wed November 28, 2018
Matt Gannon/CNN
Now playing
07:15
These grandparents drive 20 miles roundtrip for clean water
Pool
Now playing
03:02
Use-of-force expert says Chauvin's actions were 'justified'
CNN
Now playing
01:06
Dr. Gupta: Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will fuel hesitancy
CNN
Now playing
02:02
Daunte Wright's mom emotionally recounts her son's death
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Now playing
01:43
US consumer prices increased in March
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
IAEA
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
Now playing
02:31
Japan plans to release treated Fukushima water into sea
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:14
Protests break out over the shooting of Daunte Wright
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:48
Nikki Haley U-turns on 2024 presidential run. An analyst explains why
Multiple agencies are on the scene of a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School. Multiple gunshot victims reported, including a KPD officer. The investigation remains active at this time. Please avoid the area.
From Knoxville Police TN/Twitter
Multiple agencies are on the scene of a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School. Multiple gunshot victims reported, including a KPD officer. The investigation remains active at this time. Please avoid the area.
Now playing
02:43
One person dead, officer injured after shooting at Knoxville high school
CNN
Now playing
04:48
Fauci talks about what he is comfortable doing now that he's fully vaccinated
CNN
Now playing
05:40
Unprecedented footage shows front line of Ukrainian conflict with Russia
Family Photo/WCCO
Now playing
01:41
Police killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota sparks protests
CNN/Getty Images
Now playing
05:29
Anti-Defamation League CEO calls for Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Planet Labs Inc./AP
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Now playing
02:21
Iran claims 'terrorist action' caused blackout at nuclear site
jason carroll vaccine hesitancy maine pkg ac360 vpx_00000000.png
jason carroll vaccine hesitancy maine pkg ac360 vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
03:28
Health advocates go door-to-door to fight vaccine hesitancy
Now playing
02:48
GOP governor calls Trump's RNC remarks 'divisive'
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018:  The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
SCOTUS blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities
(CNN) —  

For 10 years, some residents in Denmark, South Carolina, have been suspicious of the rust-colored water coming from their taps. They’ve been collecting samples in jars and using bottled or spring water, even though the local and state government assured them it was safe.

But through a Freedom of Information Act request and a one-year investigation, CNN has found new information that may cast doubts on those assurances.

The state government was adding a substance to 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. The substance, known as HaloSan, was not approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency to disinfect drinking water.

The city’s mayor says that all of the city’s wells flow into one system to be distributed throughout the city.

The EPA and the state of South Carolina have confirmed to CNN that there is now an open investigation into how this happened, although neither would comment on the target of the probe or the scope.

It’s unclear what the effects of HaloSan might have been on the almost 3,000 people who live in this rural, tight-knit community, but a group of about 40 residents believe the water is to blame for illnesses and maladies they say they’re suffering from.

The chemical is typically used as a disinfectant for pools and spas, but several experts contacted by CNN said they could not find another instance where it was added to a drinking water system.

One thing is clear – the state of South Carolina approved its use, and it should not have. It was used for 10 years.

CNN was told by the state that it has been adding HaloSan to the water in Denmark since 2008.

A spokesman for South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control told CNN in an email that it believed HaloSan was EPA-approved for drinking water based on the way the system was “advertised.”

“The Berry Systems HaloSan treatment unit had been advertised as an effective treatment in the control of iron bacteria and was certified … ” said Tommy Crosby, director of media relations for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Berry Systems, the makers of HaloSan, has not responded to multiple phone calls and emails by CNN requesting comment.

“It was our thinking that it was an approved chemical to be used,” said Gerald Wright, mayor of Denmark, South Carolina. “We rely totally on DHEC because they have the responsibility and expertise to test, monitor and advise.”

An EPA spokesperson tells CNN that HaloSan is not approved to be used to treat drinking water.

“HaloSan has not undergone the necessary evaluations as part of the pesticide registration process and, therefore, EPA cannot confirm the safe use of this product for the disinfection of drinking water,” according to the EPA.

An EPA risk assessment from 2007 shows that HaloSan can be a “significant eye and skin irritant.” Other effects can include “burning, rash, itching, skin discoloration/redness, blistering, allergic type reactions including hives/welts, allergic contact dermatitis, and bleeding also have been reported. … Eye pain and swelling of eyes also has been reported in some incidences.”

Disinfectants fall under the EPA pesticide program.

The EPA told CNN that HaloSan is not a registered pesticide product and has not been reviewed by EPA’s pesticide program. By law, “a product intended to be used to disinfect drinking water must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency,” and have scientific data that demonstrates that the product “can perform its intended function without undue harm to people or the environment.”

An April 2018 presentation by South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control shows that one of Denmark's wells was treated with HaloSan.
An April 2018 presentation by South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control shows that one of Denmark's wells was treated with HaloSan.

The EPA also says that dosage must be regulated when being used for its intended purposes in pesticides. In Denmark’s drinking water, it’s unclear if it was regulated or filtered.

Wright tells CNN that he defers to South Carolina’s DHEC.

“The Berry Systems treatment unit … was specifically designed to treat the Cox Mill Well at the proper level,” the DHEC’s Crosby said. He did not say how, or if, the standard for daily monitoring was met.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer and researcher who first learned of HaloSan’s usage in a sampling report about Denmark, said he was “dumbfounded” when he saw it was being added to one of Denmark’s wells.

“I did a thorough search, and I’ve never seen it approved for a public water supply before,” he said. “And the EPA approvals that I saw, none of them were for municipal potable water.”

In addition, Edwards noted that he sees no evidence in any reports that the dosage was being regulated.

“You have to make sure you don’t put too much of it in the water. And there was no way that they could prove that they weren’t exceeding the recommended dose,” he said. “There’s a maximum allowed amount, even for industrial applications. And they have no way of proving that, that level is not being exceeded.”

Wilma Subra, a chemist and environmental health scientist, told CNN that HaloSan appears to be sold with a kit that regulates dosage. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control says it required daily monitoring, “performed by the certified system operator,” of “any chemical” added to the drinking water, ensuring that the maximum dosage is not exceeded.

Joe Charbonnet, science and policy associate at the Green Science Policy Institute, said without knowing the concentration levels in the water, it’s hard to know the health effects. He said he is concerned about HaloSan being used as a water disinfectant because it could produce compounds that are toxic.

Like many small towns, Denmark’s water bills have been rising since its population dropped, along with its revenue. Maintenance of old water lines has fallen victim, leaving pipes to rust and turn the water brown. It’s unappealing to look at, even if the discolored water isn’t violating the law.

A $2 million federal grant to repair and upgrade water pipes here just wasn’t enough, according to Wright, Denmark’s mayor. “[O]ne grant itself is not adequate to replace all of the necessary pipes. We prioritize the ones that should be replaced first,” he told CNN. “At no time have we not responded to a need that was urgent. We’ve done that. So what we’ve done is all we know we can do.”