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Ground Broken On Water Stripper Plant

By Staff | Feb 26, 2020

Lisa Davis and Tonya Shuler stand next to a map of Paden City in the Paden City Water Crisis office on Main Street.

On February 19, 2020, Paden City broke ground on a new water stripper system, which town Mayor Clyde Hochstrasser and others claim will eliminate 99.9 percent of the Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) which has contaminated the towns water supply. While the new system comes with an estimated cost of $570,000 financed by the United States Department of Agriculture, and is reported to be a state-of-the-art facility, it is also believed by many as a bandaid approach to the real problem.

The old saying “You can’t fight city hall” has been taken to another level in Paden City, with many residents now saying “You can’t trust city hall.” Among those feeling uneasy and suspicious with their local officials are a group of determined ladies who have had a hard time getting straight answers. Both parties say they are working together , but tension remains.

While mayor Hochstrasser contended he sent a notice to the Governor asking for a state of emergency. The Governor’s proglamation says otherwise, stating he was only informed of high readings.. On February 4, Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for Paden City. However residents of the community didn’t find out until February 20, when a press release went out from the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security. Hochstrasser says it was also the 20th before he found out.

During recent months the community has been in an uproar trying to get clear, understandable answers to their concerns. In March 2019, when residents were first informed of the problem, city officials told residents at an overcrowded council meeting they were working on it.

Not completely satisfied with the answer, residents continued to rally, but shortly calmed down. In January, the city sent out a notice informing the citizens that testing showed contamination levels of PCE had jumped from 5.5 ppb to 13 ppb. Tempers once again flared. Records show there have been high readings of PCE in the water as far back as 1999, and in 2013 they spiked as high as 49.6.

Paden City begins water treatment plant upgrade.

At the February council meeting, citizens jammed inside the small meeting room to express their displeasure once again. At the meeting, Hochstrasser informed the group that they were going to start installation of the new stripper system, and it would take care of the problem. Those in attendance wanted to address other issues as well, including why the city had waited to inform them and how long the new project was going to take.

Many wanted to know if the water was safe to drink or even shower in. No one seemed to want to answer the questions. One lady stated she had installed a filtration system in her bathroom because she had been experiencing extreme fatique and was getting wheezy. She said the system worked well for her. Mayor Hockstrasser said, maybe you have COPD. The lady later looked over to the council and pleaded for their help, saying “We really, really need you to step up and do something, please.”

Many others showed frustration with the situation and continued to press forward for answers and a solution. They claim their reseach has led them to the conclusion that city officials have had knowledge for many years of the contamintion, and have kept them in the dark. Residents say they were led to believe it was safe to drink, bathe in and use leisurely, however once they discovered they were indeed being poisioned they became serious.

“So many people in this little town have medical issues that can’t be explianed. We let our children swin in it, we let our elderly and babies drink it. Many folks have died and many are sick and we don’t know why,” stated Tonya Shular a town activist for clean water.

In the time since the regular February council meeting, a group of women formed the “Paden City Water Crisis” to help organize relief for the community. Through their efforts alone, they have secured enough free clean drinking water for the residents and are planning another hand out in March.

People throughout the community have flooded the Governors office and others representatives with phone calls and emails asking for help, however the response has always been, “The Mayor needs to ask for emergency assistance.”

Officals in Charleston claim there is help available, in bulk and to drink, but it has to be requested by the Mayor. The Paden City Water Crisis group, still believes the solution is not the $570,000 stripper system currently being installed. They claim the contaminant has entered the towns water aguifer and will still be present once it reaches the customers tap.

“No one knows for sure where the contamination is coming from. Test samples were taken by the old Band Box Cleaners and they were over the limit allowed. However, we believe it could be coming from a number of sources including the old gas stations and repair shops and the factory sites,” Shular stated.

Residents remain hopeful the new system will work and eliminate the problem, but the city itself has said it’s only a start and a pernament solution is years away. The present water storage tanks are very old and the water lines throughout the community need replaced as well. A project the city says will cost upwards of $5 million.

“We shall see,” said Shular. “Right now I don’t know who or what to believe. I know we have a lot of sick people, and a lot of cancer and something is definitly wrong. I will not drink the water, and I only use it when absolutely necessary; from my research I would not advise anyone to use this water. We need a new water source period.”

According to the DHSEM they have not received any resourse requests from Paden City Officials, however they say they remain in contact with Mayor Hochstrasser, other officials and local emergency managers. The DHSEM says alternate sources of water have been discussed including bottled and bulk water.

While the Governors’ office through the DHHS has offered assistance, it remains unclear why city officials have not requested help. Paden City received five truck loads of water donated by local businesses and Nestle, through the efforts of the volunteers and the Paden City Water Crisis Group. Four ladies and them only.

The Wetzel Chronicle and Tyler Star News recently spoke with WV Delelgates David Kelly and Dave Pethtel. Both delegates say they have spoken to Paden City Mayor Hochstrasser and offered their assistance. However, both contend they have been told by the mayor that he doesn’t need anything and he has everything under control. They also said they would do anything in their power to help Paden City obtain clean water.

Other officials who have offered assistance include United States Senator Joe Manchin, and U.S. Congressman David McKinley.

It is also unclear if a town meeting was ever held for the discussion of the stipper plant to be financed by the USDA.

The Paden City Water Crisis Group in the meantime will continue to advocate for clean water in a town where early results of a survey is showing close to 70 percent of the population has similar medical problems. The group says they will continue to keep city hall on their toes, while also watching the backs of the elderly, disabled and young folks of what is left of the dying community.

“We believe this is a major crisis, not something that can be fixed overnight. We know from what has occurred in other areas that the real solution is a new water source,” said Shular. “You can’t put a patch on anything and expect it to hold.”

Paden City was an industrial glass factory community and at one point the land where the city industrial part is located housed different glass plants. Other areas along the West side of town still house factories and abandoned, dilapidated buildings which set right above the city park. These buildings along with old repair shops and gas stations may also be major contributors to the contamination.

Although it is not certain where or how much contamination there is, keep in mind residents are determined to find out and in the meantime they are disturbed that they must continued to pay for a defected product. They also continue to pay property taxes on utterly worthless homes and land.

School Children walk the halls of the schools where you see the water fountains taped over or covered. Bottled water is supplied to the schools for cooking and drinking.

Some in the community wonder why the current mayor of council should be blamed, after all they say the mayor brought the problem to light. The truth be told, one would discover that a couple of the current council members have held positions on council on and offfor as far back as 1999. The mayor himself was on previous councils and a member of the Paden City Development Authority. They all had access to the information, and don’t forget the water board never informed the public, nor did the health department or EPA.

It became public when a citizen discovered it through records on the internet. That’s when the mayor decided to quickly put out a letter to inform residents.

Many Residents believe every member of past councils, every mayor since records have been kept, and every water plant operator, plus any city official associated with the city water should have known and should have spoke up.

W.Va. Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management aiding Paden City water system response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With Paden City breaking ground on a long-term solution to its public water system issues, the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is pledging any needed personnel and resources to the Ohio River community.

Construction began Feb. 19 on a state-of-the-art cleaning facility for the water system. The filtration plant will eliminate elevated levels of the chemical Tetrachloroethylene (PCE).

“While prior testing shows the levels of PCE in the water system to be acceptable, the State of West Virginia will seek all possible solutions for the citizens in Paden City,” said DHSEM Director Mike Todorovich.

DHSEM has not received any resource requests from Paden City, but remains in contact with its mayor and other officials as well as local emergency managers. Alternative measures under discussion include a temporary supply of bottled and bulk water.

The filtration equipment is on track for installation within four to six months. PCE is a nonflammable colorless liquid used as a dry-cleaning agent and metal degreasing solvent. Testing of Paden City water has not shown any immediate health risk from consumption or exposure.

The Bureau for Public Health at the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources is also assisting Paden City. It asked the federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), to evaluate the drinking for non-ingestion household use. ATSDR advised that the results show the water can safely be used for showering, washing dishes and other household uses without adverse health effects.

Although testing began decades ago, the Paden City public water system first detected PCE in its finished water supply in early 2010. Intermittently, levels have increased and prompted a variety of steps by the city to address them. The most recent episode of elevated levels began in 2018.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency for Paden City on Feb. 4, facilitating DHSEM’s support. Officials stress that this proclamation was issued so the state can assist this local response and does not indicate an escalation of the water system’s issues.

For questions regarding the system, please contact the Paden City water department.