A chemical that bills itself as a well cleaner, but hasn’t been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to treat drinking water, has reportedly been used for that purpose for 10 years in Denmark, South Carolina, CNN reported Sunday.
Citing a yearlong investigation and an FOIA request, CNN’s report raised concerns over whether the chemical that was used to treat naturally occurring iron bacteria in one of Denmark’s four wells may be unsuitable for long-term ingestion. Some residents of Denmark reportedly turned to spring or bottled water to avoid having to drink the water, which they believe was making them ill.
The chemical, HaloSan from the South Carolina-based manufacturer Berry Systems, claims on its website to be approved by NSF International, a product testing and certification organization in Michigan. But the EPA told CNN that it is not approved for use in drinking water, and more than three dozen residents of Denmark told the publication they believe the chemical led to health issues like rashes and kidney problems.
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.”
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.
In its investigation, CNN spoke with experts who were unaware of any other incidents in which the chemical was used to treat drinking water. Gerald Wright, the city’s mayor, said it relies “totally” on South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control “because they have the responsibility and expertise to test, monitor and advise” and deferred to the agency.
Tommy Crosby, the director of media relations for the South Carolina, reportedly believed the product was approved for use in treating drinking water, telling CNN: “The Berry Systems HaloSan treatment unit had been advertised as an effective treatment in the control of iron bacteria and was certified.”
The well is reportedly no longer in use, and both the state and the EPA told CNN that an open investigation is now underway. About 40 of the city’s residents are reportedly considering taking legal action and have hired counsel.
Berry Systems did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment.