Frustration Mounting as Paden City Water Crisis Continues
photo by: Shelley Hanson
PADEN CITY — Some Paden City residents are concerned about the impact the city’s tainted water is having on their wallets, while others are concerned about their health as well.
Barbara Bidwell, who has lived in the city for 14 years, said Thursday she has been buying bottled water for many years because of the city’s ongoing issues regarding tetrachloroethylene, aka PCE, tainting the water system.
Having to pay for water service at her home and bottled water to drink keeps getting more expensive for Bidwell.
“You would think they would give a discount,” she said of the city’s water department. “My water bill is $150 per month and it seems like they keep raising it.”
Regarding the water crisis, Bidwell believes information regarding the state of the water could be better communicated by city leaders.
“I’m waiting to see what they tell me,” she said Thursday. “I’m kind of used to dealing with it. It’s been going on for a very long time.”
Resident Curtis Postlewait, while enjoying a Thursday morning pancake-and-bacon breakfast at his wife Mary Postlewait’s restaurant, the Tasty Freeze, said he’s still using the city water to bathe, despite the recommendation from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Public Health and Environmental Services. That order states that people should not be using the water at all – not for drinking, cooking, bathing or washing clothes.
“A lot of people are tired of it,” he said of the water crisis. “I have an eye problem and I have to take showers in it. It’s been going on too long.”
Mary Postlewait said she has asked the city for bottled water to use at her business, but she has been denied it.
“It’s been going on too long. They need to get it fixed,” she said of the water crisis. “When they hand out water they don’t think of the businesses.”
Regarding a business not being able to get bottled water, Mayor Steve Kastigar said bottled water still is available during the distribution days.
“We are able to supply bottled water, for now, and bulk water. The distribution schedule is re-announced weekly,” he said. “They should probably get a hold of (water Superintendent Josh Billiter) about bulk water. We would be able to supply them more that way.”
Mary Postlewait said between her home and business she pays $260 for water service per month. She’s been purchasing about $100 worth of bottled water for tea and coffee making about three times per month.
Meanwhile, some residents are concerned about the possible health impacts the water may have had on them over the years. PCE has been detected as early as 2010 in the city’s water, and again in 2017 and 2020. An air stripper tower was installed in 2020 to remove the PCE, but a power outage in July led to a valve issue, allowing the chemical to enter the system again. The city has been struggling to get the water back to normal since mid-August when it received the results of its water test that showed too high a level of PCE.
Resident Susie Carroll has lived in the city since 1996. She said her husband had treatment for throat cancer she believes was caused by tainted water.
“He looks like a stick man walking,” Carroll said, referring to the weight her husband lost because of his illness.
Carroll noted she also had cancer treatment, but did not have to undergo chemo and radiation for hers. She decided to have her water tested privately and the results showed that hers had high levels of hexavalent chromium, a toxic metal.
“It’s a double whammy with the PCEs and everything,” she said.
Resident Nancy Springer, who has lived in Paden City for 60 years, said she had treatment for breast cancer. She also believes the tainted water has played a role in her health. Springer said she’s also experienced a lot of anxiety over the situation. She hasn’t been drinking the water, but she occasionally forgets not to use it for handwashing.
“I have been taking showers; I can’t stand to go without one and be stinky,” she said.
Springer believes local officials should be asking West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for help.
Tonya Shuler, a former Paden City resident who started the group “Paden City Water Crisis,” said she decided to move from the city years ago after her children began developing health issues she believes were caused by the bad water.
“We formed it when this all came about. It was for moms who had children who were sick,” she said. “We were trying to figure out why and then we got the letter in the mail.”
One of her sons developed epilepsy. Another son developed neuro tremors. Her youngest son has autoimmune issues.
Shuler said before moving she had numerous Paden City neighbors who seemed to be getting sick with a variety of diseases and conditions. She did a health survey and noticed there were clusters of different conditions in certain areas of the city. She said a University of Kentucky researcher is preparing to do a formal health survey of the residents.
Shuler and other residents are also concerned about the vapors being detected in the city caused by the PCEs. Inhaling such vapors can cause breathing issues.
Kastigar said earlier this week that some expressing concern about the city’s water were causing “drama and confusion.” He noted that the problem “isn’t new,” that he was raised drinking the local water and swam in the Ohio River as a kid.
Officials believe the tetrachloroethylene got into the water from a dry cleaning business that used to operate in the city years ago.
Dr. Alan Ducatman, professor emeritus, West Virginia University School of Public Health, said it is already known that PCE is a toxin, which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that it not be used. He said PCE is a known kidney toxin, liver toxin and neurotoxin, and is a probable carcinogen.
However, it is more difficult to draw a straight line between a person’s illness and exposure to PCE via drinking water, he said.
“Is it the cause of disease in Paden City, a small city? The answer is really hard to know. There is no data,” he said. “The questions are legitimate and the answers are complex.”
Ducatman said he has seen data in other studies, but there is usually a chronic, ongoing exposure happening.
“The important thing is to get a small city help in getting its system back online and the residents feeling confident again in their water,” he said.
When asked if the city should look into getting water from another source, Kastigar said the city already has.
“There are not any other systems in our area that can supply us with the amount we use on a daily basis without extensive upgrades to their current systems,” he said.
Regarding what kind of in-person help the city might want or need from DHHR, Kastigar said the city is simply “adhering to DHHR orders and EPA guidelines.”
“We have no control over when they will give us the all clear,” he said.