Paden City Residents Rally at Council Meeting
The Paden City Common Council convened for a regular meeting on Monday, February 3 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of the municipal building. However, due to the recent release of information regarding contaminated water violations in the city, the meeting was far from regular.
When news broke that the average level of Tetrachloroethylene – otherwise known as PCE – over the last four quarters was 13.6 g/L, with the safe standard being 5.0 g/L, residents were outraged and concerned. Although residents were informed in a recent letter that the issue was being addressed and construction of an air stripper system is to begin soon, many of the city residents made an appearance at the council meeting in order to express their many concerns and questions. The council chambers was packed with city officals, concerned citizens, and members of the media, with many forced to stand in the hallway due to lack of space in the meeting room.
The meeting began with the approval of the minutes from the January 6, council meeting, and was quickly followed by the reading of a prepared letter by Mayor Clyde Hochstrasser.
Mayor Hochstrasser addressed the crowd, saying that when he looks out at the crowd, he sees many different types of people. He began by explaining that as he looks into the audience, he sees people who are truly in attendance to find out what is being done about the water problem. However, he went on to say that he saw people there simply to further their own agendas, in search of lawsuits or “easy money,” elderly people who can’t afford to continue buying water, people who want to get out of paying their water bills or to have them reduced, as well as those looking for free water.
In response to those in search of free water, Hochstrasser stipulated that these individuals have been buying this water for ten to fifteen years.
The Paden City mayor also went on to address the other types of people in attendance that he mentioned. “To the people that want the bills reduced or to [not have to] pay at all…this is your water system and if you don’t pay your bills, we can’t repair our water lines, treat our water, or start that new five million dollar project to replace the old water lines and 100 year old tanks. To the people who need us to supply bottled water…we have contacted the Governors office asking to declare an emergency so we can get water from FEMA and other agencies. To you Facebook people causing the hysteria and the chaos with misinformation and complaints…if you truly care what is going on, you would be at every council meeting to get the proper facts.”
“You want transparency, but when we give it to you, you can’t handle it,” Hochstrasser said in apparent frustration.
The mayor continued his comments by saying they were informed by the USDA that they have never seen anyone receive grant money as quickly as Paden City has. He attributed this to the cities hard work in meeting deadlines for paperwork and working towards the compliance necessary.
“I would also like to mention that this would not have happened without the help of Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, the Mid Ohio Valley Regional Council, representative Pethtel, representative McKinley, the Thrasher Group, and the USDA.” Hochstrasser conveyed.
Following this, the floor was opened to comments and questions from the citizens in attendance.
The first resident to speak was Patty Wright, who stated that she’d like to gain more understanding on what she, as a consumer, can do in her home to “help with the problem while we’re working on the problem.” Wright expressed that she isn’t confident in the safety of the water, which is contrary to the letter sent out to Paden City residents that said they don’t need to use an alternative water source. However, Water, Streets, and Maintenance Superintendent Josh Billiter stated that the letter wasn’t sent out by the city, but by the the DHHR Bureau of Public Health. They had reportedly released the statement – a standard form – and the city filled in their information as necessary. Contary to Billiter’s statement the letter received by residents came from the city. Hochstrasser said that he can’t give her an answer on whether or not residents should drink town water or shower in it. He explained that they are simply following what the state says, and stressed that the letter sent out showed the state’s guidelines, and not necessarily the city’s.
Wright followed up this question by inquiring if any type of purifiers would work to remove the PCE from the system, asking in particular about the activated charcoal purifiers. Billiter explained that in his opinion such purifiers will remove “some small amounts” but ultimately will not be as affective as a stripper unit. Hochstrasser backed him up by saying that it might reduce the PCE, but it will not remove it completely from the water.
Hochstrasser went on to say that he has been in contact with the Governor’s office since PCE levels began showing higher readings. He explained that he is attempting to get the governor to deem the waters reaching contaminated levels as a state of emergency. Hochstrasser said that he spoke with the governor on January 31, 2020 and was told that the matter will be taken before a council where they will vote on whether or not to declare it an emergency. If he deems it an emergency, it was reported that FEMA will provide them with all the bottled water they need. Mayor Hochstrasser also reported that he would continue working on this, and would be contacting an individual at FEMA the following day.
Several in the crowd were concerned not only with drinking water but also with clean water for showering, cooking, washing dishes and doing daily chores which require exposure to the contaminated water. One gentleman who was unsatisfied with Hochstrassers answers was asked to leave the meeting and upon a police officer heading in his direction, he relayed he was leaving anyway because he had heard enough.
Hochstrasser then detailed some of their attempts at improving the issue in the past, such as switching wells. He explained this did not work as the aquifer is polluted. The city also tried installing a pump into their clean water well and pumping it back through the stripper system they currently have. However, none of these experiments ultimately panned out. Hochstrasser conveyed that there is one more experiment he’d like to conduct.
Another citizen then chimed in, questioning why citizens were only informed last year when this has been an on going issue for quite a while. Mayor Hochstrasser simply told her that it was something he decided to inform the city about when the readings went above 5.0. He also conveyed that he was glad that he did so when the readings only showed 5.5 parts per billion (ppb), because if he would have waited for higher readings, the issue could be much worse. He also informed the crowd that they will be breaking ground on February 24 for construction on installing a new air stripper system.
One resident was upset that the city and Mayor used the term experimenting, he said he didn’t like the idea of experimenting with the water.
Resident Robert Lewis then demanded an answer from the mayor on why the city didn’t provide water for citizens “straight off the bat?” Hochstrasser explained that the city is unable to do that as they do not have the funds to purchase bottled water for each household for five to six months out of the year. He further explained this inability by reiterating that it must be deemed an emergency before FEMA and other organizations will provide water.
Lewis inquired on the timeline for this, saying that he doesn’t want to wait another six months “before another four or five people die off.” Hochstrasser rebuked him by stating that people won’t die immediately from the effects of PCE, and further commented that all the illnesses and diseases in town can’t be blamed on PCE. The mayor said that there are many additional possible causes such as factories people have worked in, chemicals used on lawns, and fertilizer; he also said that the environment one lives in contributes to a person’s health conditions.
When Lewis questioned the origins of the chemical, Hochstrasser explained that when the readings first spiked, they brought the EPA out to conduct a study. Through this study, it was found that the highest levels were found at the old dry cleaner’s in town – Band Box Cleaners. He said that it was determined that this is where the PCE is coming from. Hochstrasser also explained that the number two well is directly in line with the business and as such is the most contaminated, which is why they shut the well down.
Lewis then stated that the well was shut down around 1971 and questioned why it was reopened. However, both Billiter and Hochstrasser reported that they have never heard anything about the well ever being shut down. On the subject, Hochstrasser also said, “I’m not interested in before. I’m interested in moving on, getting this water issue taken care of, and getting it eradicated…I will get you water if I can…That’s all I can tell you. That’s where we’re at.”
Another city resident, Terri Beegle, spoke up in regards to the chemicals being utilized in the water, asking council if other chemicals were being used in excess in an effort to eradicate the PCE from the water system. However, the mayor assured her that nothing is used in excess.
Beegle continued by saying that she had a carbonated filtration system installed in her bathroom. Prior to this, she conveyed her concern that when she showered, she would “get wheezy” and experience extreme fatigue, forcing her to take a 20 to 30 minute break before continuing. However, following the installation of this system, she reported no such issues. In answer to this, Hochstrasser questioned the possibility of her maybe just having COPD; she politely respnded back it could be a possibility, but maintained that the filtration system worked well for her.
“It’s no doubt the filter will help some, but its not going to take it all away. If you’re looking for a cure-all, its not going to work.” Mayor Hochstrasser told the crowd.
Beegle went on to express another issue, explaining that she is on a “very limited income.” She stressed that while she is not there for a lawsuit, she is concerned about her grandchildren drinking the water; she said that with her income, they are unable to afford the cost of extra water. “It’s eating me alive,” Beegle said on the matter. She said that she had previously allowed them to drink the city water, but now feels as if it is unsafe and wishes to purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes. However, the cost is much too high.
“We need to really, really step up and do something, please.” Beegle told the council.
Hochstrasser conveyed his understanding on this matter, saying that this was one reason that they are working towards receiving free drinking water from FEMA. He also told her that they are doing all that they can, and that there’s not much else for them to do other than move forward with the project.
Following discussion with Beegle, former Tyler County resident Hannah Spencer addressed council. Spencer introduced herself to council, and explained that after leaving Tyler County she assisted with relief during the Elk River chemical spill in 2014 and helped pass water out. She explained that she is present at the meeting because of her concern for the residents who have been drinking contaminated water.
While some individuals at the meeting requested that only Paden City residents speak, others fought for to speak, saying they’d like to hear what she had to say on the delicate matter.
In response to this flare on tempers, Spencer said, “I’m here, not for any personal gain. I’m here because I care that these people are drinking water with Tetrachloroethylene in it in such high levels.”
The former Tyler County resident informed all in attendance that well number two on Church Street reached levels of 49.6 ppb in 2013, and stipulated that no one was informed. She demanded an answer from the council on why no one was notified. While Mayor Hochstrasser wasn’t Mayor during this high spike of readings, Spencer wished to know if he was informed of the problem prior too or upon entering into the position. Hochstrasser denied any knowledge of the event when first becoming mayor. It was noted Hochstrasser had been a council member on and off over the past several years.
Once this was established, Spencer informed council that she had began conducting a study of the illnesses in residents, saying that there were many people suffering in a town of less than 3,000 residents. From her studies thus far, the following illnesses had been recorded: 13 cases of MS, six brain tumors, nine cases of brain cancer, five cases of lupus, and 11 cases of leukemia.
“In this small town, there is a cluster of folks over on the northern end of town who have ALS – five ppl. Tetrachloroethylene is known to cause central nervous system damage.” she continued.
Spencer also stated that this study was done by going door to door and speaking with residents. “When I went door to door and I started talking to people, I shut up then because I was listening to them. They wanted their voices heard and they haven’t had their voices heard by this town.”
Clearly frustrated, Mayor Hochstrasser responded by stating, “You aren’t here to fix the problem. You’re here looking for lawsuits.” However, Spencer firmly denied this statement, saying she is not looking for monetary gain. The mayor continued by explaining, “We will take care of this. First and foremost is taking care of the water now, and getting water to the people.”
Spencer continued her inquiry, asking what the city plans to do with the storage tanks. Mayor Hochstrasser explained the tanks in question are being torn down and destroyed in accordance with the upcoming water project. When a council member asked her what the relevance of the tanks was, she rebutted with the statement that the water goes in the tanks. She then followed up the statement by asking, “What about the sediment on the bottom of the storage tanks? Have [you guys] been testing that?”
Billiter replied that it’s due for testing, and this issue is one of the reasons they are working to replace the tanks.
Addressing Billiter now, Spencer asked when the first time PCE was detected in the water. Billiter informed her that the chemical was first discovered in 2010 with a reading of 5.6 ppb. It was then confirmed by those in attendance that no one in town was notified. After questioning Billiter on the lack of openness to the community, the water superintendent reported that he was not here at that time. However, he did confirm that in 2013, the water had reached levels of 49.6 ppb.
“It took 15 days to shut it down according to your records.” Spencer said.
“When I got the results back it went off.” Billiter firmly replied.
Mayor Hochstrasser also chimed in on this issue, saying, “Just because that well is 49.6, doesn’t mean the finished product was 49.6. You need to mention that because…the water was actually a 12. You’re in here blowing things up and we’re not here to do that right now.”
However, Spencer forged forward and said, “People in this town are concerned for their health and the health of their loved ones, and it doesn’t seem like the city council is seeing any urgency.” She showed the council the concern of the citizens by having all in attendance who feel this way raise their hands, with the vast majority of the room in agreement with Spencer. Paden City mayor conveyed that they are concerned about it as well, but stated that they were “not going to deal with that right now.”
It was immediately following this statement that another resident asked the mayor to explain and further expand on the process and what is required for the city to fix the issue. Hochstrasser began by saying that the first thing they plan to do is install the air stripper, which will reportedly remove 99.99 percent of PCE.
She then asked, “The highest levels are coming from around the Band Box and they traveled to the tanks. So if you bring all this stuff in, fix the tanks, put in a filter, and whatever else you’re going to fix, are we going to do anything about the soil around the Band Box?”
Hochstrasser explained that the next course of action they will take is to bring the EPA back in, do more sampling in different areas in town, and then try to get them to possibly Brownsville it. However, he said this will all take time.
“It just sounds senseless,” she conveyed. “to fix a problem that begins anywhere else than where the source is – where it’s coming from.”
However, the mayor argued that their top priority is to fix the water and bring it to safe levels by eradicating the pollution. After they’re able to do this, he said that they will then follow up on the water wells, conducting various testings and drilling, as well as having the city look into what avenues they can take in addressing the issues with the soil around the Band Box and any other area they find.
This same resident then questioned if – during this timeframe of fixing the issue and beginning work on the soil – the PCE contaminant will eventually go to the replaced equipment and ruin it, therefore putting Paden City back to square one.
While the mayor failed to have a proper response to this inquiry, he stated that it was his hopes that by this time, there will be more advanced technology available that will be able to take care of such issues.
Another individual then spoke up, asking for a timeframe before the water issue is completely resolved. However, much to the disappointment of those gathered, the mayor reported that he wasn’t sure. He explained that the only timeframe they had was for the installation of the stripper. He said that that was all they could currently do and that they would work on the rest as they can. Hochstrasser reported that the city doesn’t have the money to fix these issues on their own and therefore has to rely on government help. “Government help and red tape takes time.” he said.
A newer resident of the city then asked for clarification on a matter previously discussed, questioning if Hochstrasser and the city had called for a state of emergency. Paden City mayor said that he had. He reiterated that he had sent a letter to the governor, spoke to a representative, and was told that the matter would be taken to a council for a decision. While he hopes for answers within the week, he admitted that he is unsure of how long the process will take.
Another concerned citizen informed all in attendance that he feels confident that the water in his home on Church Street is safe to drink. This confidence, he explained, stems from the filter he has in his home. He said that he had water from his residence sent to a lab for testing, and they reported no presence of PCE. However, he’s having another sample sent for testing this week. He concluded from this that filters do work.
This same resident then asked how often the water was being tested, to which the mayor replied that they test once every three months. It was at this time that local Tonya Schuler piped in to remind the council that city residents were informed that there would be testing every month. Hochstrasser confirmed that they were testing once a month for a while before returning to the original, state mandated testing every three months. However, he said they are in talks about testing PCE levels each month as a result of the higher readings.
It was then asked if after readings are gathered, if the residents would be informed. Hochstrasser said they would be, and they discussed alternate means of delivering the readings that are more cost effective than the letters. One suggestion was using the Emergency Manager phone calls.
Schuler went on to say that there needs to be a study done in town as too many people have reported sickness and illnesses in town. Schuler told all gathered that her son suffers from severe epilepsy which will likely affect him his whole life, possibly as a result of the water. On the matter she said, “If this water poisoned him because I wasn’t given the choice to make him drink it or not, that was wrong. If you ever allowed that to happen and did not let us know, it’s wrong.” It was immediately apparent that much of the audience agreed with her due to overwhelming applause.
She also stipulated that it was in October of 2013 when the city saw the spike in water readings, and it was also in that month that her son had his first grand mal seizure. Schuler made sure to stress to council that she was also not in pursuit of a lawsuit; her aim and goal is to fix this issue so another child doesn’t have to suffer like hers.
She also told the council that while handing out water to families in town, people have expressed their concern to her. However, they reported that when they speak to council, they’re told that Schuler is “blowing it out of proportion and making a big deal out of nothing” as well as to not listen to her. She responded to council by saying, “I have pure facts. I went through everything and brought it to you guys. Everything I’ve said I’ve brought straight to you. But to hear that you’re making a mockery of me because I’m looking out for the best wellbeing of my kids…”
Schuler then closed out her piece by stating, “I built a house down here 25 years ago; I’d like to be able to stay in it without being poisoned any longer.”
Although the mayor wanted to move on, councilman JP Springer made sure to tell Schuler that she has “very serious concerns” and he understands that.
Next to speak was Robin Fox, who reported that she was there to speak for her husband, who is now unable to speak for himself. She began by explaining that in March of 2016, her neighbor, who they had lived beside for over 30 years, had been diagnosed with ALS – a rare disease affecting two in 100,000 people. That same summer, Fox reported that her husband, Mark, began to fall ill. In September of 2016, her neighbor passed away from ALS; in November of that same year, Mark had been diagnosed with ALS as well. Soon after this, the Fox’s learned that another individual residing not quite a quarter of a mile down the road from them had passed a year earlier as a result of ALS.
“Long before I ever heard of problems with the water, I knew that there was an environmental concern.” Fox conveyed. She explained that in 2016 she had spoke with the DHHR, the EPA, and even visited the CDC in Washington D.C., and there was no action taken. In 2018, she reported that she sat in Shelly Moore Capito’s office, and still received no help.
When news of the water pollution was first released, Fox said that even though PCE is known to cause central nervous system issues, she didn’t initially believe the water had caused her husband’s ALS. This was because everyone is drinking the same water and not everyone has been diagnosed with the rare disease. However, when time went on, she said she began to put the “pieces of the puzzle together” and noticed that her end of town is more affected than any other area.
“I’m not here for a lawsuit.” Fox expressed. “Money is not going to restore my husbands health…I feel very certain that this is what caused it…I want to see policies changed so that the levels are not reported as safe levels…that’s not safe. My husband hasn’t ate or drank in two years, he can’t even breathe on his own. So don’t tell me this is a safe water system because it is not.”
She then conveyed her desire to conduct studies so that other towns don’t have to face the same issue, to which the mayor agreed that there was a need for this.
Councilman Springer then addressed Fox by saying that he previously worked with her husband, and it was his belief that where they worked likely exposed them to contaminants “one hundred fold” more than the town. While he said the water in town is “not perfect by a long-shot,” that it might be good for her to look into the plants and see if any studies had been done as it is likely that this is one area that many individuals were exposed to it on a large scale.
In reply, Fox said, “I appreciate that, but I disagree with you. The three that were diagnosed at our end of town, none of them worked together, none of them were related, and it all happened within a real short amount of time. So there had to have been an acute exposure. If it was exposures from the prior years for all of them, it would have happened over more time. To me, it just doesn’t make sense for them to have been diagnosed at the same time. What are the chances for a rare disease like that?”
Fox then mentioned that in a metal plant in southern West Virginia, it had been discovered in a study that eight people working there were later diagnosed with ALS. She said that PCE is used as a chemical degreaser as well as dry cleaner fluid, and concluded that these two instances could likely be related. “If you can make a connection between this and what happened to those guys…it can prove that this chemical is more dangerous than anybody realizes.”
She then reiterated a need to do a study and to have policies changed because “it takes chaos to get anything done.”
Citizens then discussed getting the proper paperwork to begin studies, as well as holding weekly meetings, and going door to door to gather more facts and evidence.
Councilman Steve Kastigar also spoke up on the matter, saying that they understand that everyone is upset and that there a lot of things that need to be addressed. “We need you guys’ help and understanding. If we want to be residents of this town, we have to buckle in and work together.”
Also wishing to speak was Pete Lauderman who said he’s worked on wells his whole life. From this experience, he’s formed a conclusion that no course of action will be effective unless they shut down every well and drill new ones on the hill. However, Mayor Hochstrasser said that they have already looked into this route and found that it will not give enough water to supply the town.
Mayoral candidate Bill Bell then posed a question that he conceded might not have an answer. “I know we’re being reactive to a problem thats occurring right now. How do we prevent something like this from happening again 30 to 40 years from now?”
A representative from Thrasher told him that the air stripper is a “permanent solution” to the problem. He explained that it is a new process added into the treatment process, and designed specifically for these types of contaminations. “Air stripping is the most effective way to treat PCE and other chemicals in that family. Results show a 99.99 percent effectiveness in removing extremely high levels – higher levels than you are experiencing.”
He went on to tell of the process, saying it will be added onto the front end of the treatment. “There’s going to be a new building set beside your existing water treatment plant with the stripper unit installed. Water will be pumped from your wells into the stripper unit, from there back into your water treatment plant; then it will go through the normal treatment process, and then be distributed out through the city system.”
Another individual then spoke up and asked if this process had been done before. The Thrasher representative said that there are hundreds of case studies that back up his statement, specifically citing the issues in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison reportedly had PCE as well as TCE in their water systems, and three of the same units were installed, due to their system being slightly larger. These units reportedly removed the chemicals from the drinking water.
One of the last statements given came from Roseanne Eastham who said that everyone in town needs to write a letter to the EPA. “It doesn’t have to be a perfect letter, but we need to let them know what’s happening in our small towns. Until the EPA knows what’s happening, they’re not going to do anything. We can sit here all night and complain, but who we need to be complaining to is the EPA.”
In other business, a motion was made and quickly carried in favor of the approval of all bills for payment.
Mayor Hochstrasser then inquired about an update from the Paden City Police in regards to the purchase of a new cruiser. However, there was no new information available.
Approval was then needed for Raymond “BB” Smith’s resignation from the Paden City Development Authority (PCDA), effective January 31, 2020. A motion was made to approve, and the motion was carried.
A motion was also made to approve Glen Tarbett and Mike Anderson to the PCDA board. This motion was quickly carried.
Cork Bowen from the PCDA was also in attendance in order to deliver a “snap shot” of the ongoing Brownsville project. He told council that they had submitted grants of up to $300,000 for remediation on the plant, where they have nine acres of land as well as a water well on site. Bowen also explained that phase one and phase two of the project had been conducted, and environmental assessments had been conducted. During these assessments, soil samples were reportedly taken from all around appropriate areas on site, and Bowen said that they had not detected the presence of PCE.
Mayor Hochstrasser questioned if the water well is feasible for use, reporting that he was searching for alternative avenues to solving the water issue. However Billiter dashed his hopes when he was told that the well was not in service and hadn’t been used for 30 to 35 years. Billiter explained that he has looked into the well and saw many issues such as the well being enclosed and the plumbing having been removed.
Bowen told Mayor Hochstrasser that Brownsville might be an option for them in order to get other areas tested. However, Billiter reported that the EPA had contacted him a couple of weeks ago and explained that there was more testing that they’d like to conduct. Mayor Hochstrasser said that they would be pursuing this next, and would have the EPA sample other areas in town.
Following this, the council addressed new business.
Approval was needed for new contracts for Pestech, with the price remaining unchanged at $240 a year, payable by $40 a visit. A motion was made in favor of the new contracts, and the motion was subsequently carried.
A motion was also made in favor of making 100 block of South 3rd Avenue permanent one sided parking on the west side to allow for handicapped parking. This motion was quickly carried.
Following these matters, the meeting was adjourned. The next regular Paden City Council meeting will be Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of the municipal building.