Denmark has a problem.
No, it has a crisis.
That’s what some residents of the poor, rural Lowcountry town say.
The crisis is a decade of “poison” in the town water system, according to one of the lawsuits filed after the man who blew the lid off the Flint, Michigan, water debacle turned his attention to the small town on U.S. 321 about 90 miles north of Bluffton.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering, told the people of Denmark all he’d trust their water for is flushing the toilet.
Yet residents still use public water that sometimes flows brown to drink, cook and bathe. The town and the state health department insist the water is safe. A university researcher said she was not concerned.
But Denmark activist Deanna Miller Berry said: “We don’t trust any of their reports. How do you trust people who poisoned you for 10 years?”
Sammy Fretwell of our sister paper, The State in Columbia, reported it this way:
“For 10 years, the town of Denmark injected a chemical into its drinking water that has rarely, if ever, been used in public water systems across the country.”
CNN reported after a year of investigation:
“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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to disinfect drinking water.”
State regulators at Clemson University ordered Denmark to stop using HaloSan last July, even though its use in the town water system was approved by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
HaloSun is typically used to disinfect pools and hot tubs. Its use in the water system was not public knowledge. EPA says its use is to be closely monitored, but CNN reports, “In Denmark’s drinking water, it’s unclear if it was regulated or filtered.”
Some think this may explain their years of suspicions about the water, and their ailments.
Meanwhile, the class-action lawsuits proceed, a “peaceful protest” is planned for Jan. 26 in Denmark, and some residents will continue to make the 20-mile round trip to fill bottles with free-flowing pure water from the Healing Springs near Blackville.
“That’s like Third World-country type conditions right there,” Berry said. “People hauling water. Unbelievable.”
‘Canary in the mine shaft’
Bluffton and Beaufort were to the first two cities in South Carolina to help Denmark.
Citizens here took bottled water to Denmark, where it is distributed through an organization started by Berry, Denmark Citizens for Safe Water.
“I was just scrolling through my news feed when I saw something about it,” said Bridgette Frazier of Bluffton, a teacher at Hilton Head Island Middle School.
She did some research and concluded, “That’s scary. We need to do something about it. So many pockets of majority-disenfranchised people are subjected to things like that.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 38 percent of individuals in Denmark live below the poverty level, the median household income is $22,114, and the population of about 3,000 is 93 percent African-American.
Frazier said she reached out to pastors in Bluffton.
“It seems as if water is one of those issues more prevalent than we think,” Black said. “Most rural towns are going to have a challenge. It’s underfunded and a very expensive operation. The canary in the mine shaft is singing out in Denmark.”
Black reached out to Berry, and four days later, his church delivered a U-Haul trailer of bottled water.
He also spread the word to Beaufort, where the Omega Alpha Alpha chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity hauled two pallets of bottled water to Denmark. Then those volunteers went back and forth from the Walmart in Barnwell to deliver seven more pallets of water, Berry said.
“I would hope other cities would join in because we’re still one state,” Berry said. “I’ve got more people from other states contributing than our state.
“Bluffton and Beaufort are paving the way for others to get involved. Others need to stand in solidarity with us to fight for justice in Denmark so that we have access to safe, clean drinking water without having to live in fear of what lurks in our water.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may never have visited Denmark, but his messengers soon will.
Bluffton and Hilton Head Island will mark the 90th anniversary of King’s birth this weekend in part with an inter-faith M.L. King Candlelight Service for the Water Crisis in Denmark.
It will be be held at Campbell Chapel AME Church, 20 Boundary St. in Bluffton, from 5 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Those who attend are urged to bring a case of bottled water for Denmark.
Prior to the candle-lighting, three local faith leaders will participate in what Black called a prayer vigil: the Rev. Doug Fletcher from First Presbyterian on Hilton Head, Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head, and the Rev. Mark DeVaney from Cornerstone Church in Bluffton.
Deanna Berry will the keynote speaker. She plans to bring with her the two Denmark citizens who took their water concerns to Berry, and called the Virginia Tech professor after seeing him on the news in Flint. Paula Brown and Eugene Smith also were featured on the CNN reports.
Pastor Black said his church would collect bottled water through Thursday, and deliver it to Denmark on Friday, ahead of a rally in the heart of town at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, that Berry said could attract thousands of people and national media coverage.
Berry said the keynote speaker will be LeeAnne Walters, the mom from Flint who persisted with her concerns about the public water system there until problems were acknowledged and addressed.
“All I’m trying to do is shed light on an issue,” Berry said.
“No, we’re not going to take this. It’s something that has to be addressed because America has a water crisis, and we’ve got to fix it.”