VA residents drink, bathe, brush teeth with bottled water after contamination concerns

Neighbors in Prince William County are now suing a multi-billion-dollar energy company after pollution concerns. Company denies the claims.

DUMFRIES, VA (WUSA9) - A group of neighbors living in Possum Point, Virginia has been afraid to drink, brush their teeth and shower using their own well water for years.

They fear the multi-billion-dollar energy company, Dominion Energy, that is less than a mile away, is polluting their water. The company denies their claim. 

Two neighbors have now filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit claiming Dominion Energy contaminated their drinking water.

READ LAWSUIT Part 1, Part 2

Dan Marrow is one of the residents who is part of that lawsuit. He has lived in Possum Point with his family for 26 years. He described the experience as "overwhelming."

“It's hard to protect your family when you don't have an education, so you feel like your hands are tied,” said Marrow.  “How do you protect them knowing that, any minute, something else can happen?”

Marrow worried the water he and his family were drinking would lead to serious health problems in the future.

Dominion Energy has provided power to Possum Point. The company burnt coal on their site until 2003. Now the residents' concern is coal ash contamination.


Coal ash is the waste product of coal and contains some dangerous elements, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some of the elements in coal ash have been linked to neurological problems, behavioral issues and increased risks of cancer.

According to the lawsuit, neighbors are worried Dominion Energy is dumping coal ash into Quantico Creek to get rid of it.

"We didn't know what was in the water," said neighbor Anthony Robinson. "We just started getting a bad smell, taste, and film on the water."

But Dominion said they wouldn't do that to their customers.

"Dominion is not the type of company that is going to dump anything that is questionable into any body of water," said Chuck Penn, Dominion Energy spokesperson.

RELATED: How to test your well's drinking water

Some families said they have taken up some extreme measures to protect their families.

Marrow said he poured water over his wife's head every morning to shower.

"I would scream for him and he would come and pour jugs over my head just to rinse my hair out and it was freezing cold, but what option do you have," said Patty Marrow.  "I mean I went to a hotel at first."

"I had to beg her to come home," her husband said.

The family only drinks bottled water now.

So is the water contaminated?

Three different water tests were done. One done by the county showed that the water was safe. One conducted by the state showed that the water was also safe. Those tests were done at a state certified lab.

The third test done by the Potomac Riverkeeper was tested at another certified lab. Tests found the water was dangerous. The lead level in one of the wells was thirty times what the government said is safe.

Scientists said water test results can vary. WUSA9 asked neighbors if we could take their water to an independent lab for testing. They agreed, but then their lawyer rejected the idea because of the ongoing litigation.

"We are comfortable with the findings on their well water and the quality of their water," said Penn, Dominion's spokesperson. "That it is safe, that it meets the requirements of public drinking water."

When asked about the third water test done by the Potomac Riverkeeper, Penn replied: "We have no knowledge of those tests and are not in a position to question the veracity or methodology or whatever that was used for those tests."

Every few weeks, Dominion is required to sample the water around the site. One water test turned up some surprising results last year. Heavy metals associated with coal ash were found in the river, but results were under the level that raises the red flag for the EPA.

Even though Dominion said it hasn't contaminated the water, back in December 2016, Dominion offered eight families with the option of public water or provide water filtration systems for free. But there was a catch: residents had to agree not to sue Dominion.

"Dominion made the offer to be a good neighbor and give everyone peace of mind," said Jason Williams, Environmental Manager at Dominion.

However, the timing was off. Several neighbors, including the Marrows, had already paid thousands of dollars to hook up to county water. Meanwhile, the Marrows continue to drink bottled water, because they are worried about leftover contamination in their piping.

The Marrow family and another neighbor are suing Dominion for more than $1 million each. The suit also requests Dominion to stop polluting water sources in the future.

"This is where we are today and they have totally disrupted our lives," said Patty Marrow.

When WUSA9's Hillary Lane asked if Chuck Penn, Dominion's spokesman, would feel comfortable having his family drink the water, he replied: "I wouldn't have any hesitation whatsoever to drink water, a glass of water, or whatever. None whatsoever. "

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is supposed to act as a referee in all of this. The DEQ said they investigated and found that Dominion was not to blame.

But is the DEQ an impartial judge?

WUSA9 did some digging and found that before the DEQ conducted its investigation, Dominion wined and dined the head of that agency at a major sporting event.

So neighbors are not only concerned about their water, but they are also worried about the relationship between the DEQ and Dominion.

Public officials are required to document the gifts they receive. In financial disclosure forms dating back to 2013, Dominion took the director of the DEQ, David Paylor, on a trip to the Masters Tournament.

Dominion entertained Paylor at a price tag of over $2,000. This was totally legal at the time, but this relationship between a powerful, multi-billion dollar company and the agency that supposed to regulate them seemed kind of fishy to neighbors.

It would become illegal for public officials to accept gifts over $100 in 2015. A law was passed by the Virginia legislature after former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell was found guilty of corruption. That ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

DEQ Spokesperson William Hayden said back in 2013, the trip to the Masters was nothing out of the ordinary for someone in Paylor’s position.

 “At the time he did that, it was just a routine business trip that sometimes comes up with permit holders,” said Hayden.

Penn added, “To suggest that a representative from a regulatory agency like that could be bought for the price of a ticket to a sporting event. I think is a real stretch and beyond the pale.”

Still, some neighbors have continued to feel uncomfortable with this relationship.

“It feels like no one cares about us,” said Patty Marrow. “This makes you lose faith in people.”

The Marrow’s lawsuit against Dominion is now in the discovery phase.

Meanwhile, the EPA's investigation continues into whether or not Dominion contaminated the water. 

WUSA


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