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Frustrated WVAW Customers Rally Against Water Company

Reported: Jan. 18, 2014 9:54 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 18, 2014 10:02 PM EST

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Katy Brown) -- Water service was back online Saturday for all customers who were under the do-not-use order this week, but a lot of people still weren't using it, worried it will make them sick.

After the water crisis started just more than a week ago, there was an initial spike in sicknesses from people who drank the water or bathed in it before the ban went in effect.

But as water has come back on and the ban lifted, there have been countless reports of new symptoms showing up.

That's why a few growing Facebook groups decided to protest at the state Capitol, hoping their actions might get answers.

If you were to ask the Devaneys why they chose to rally against West Virginia American Water, their answer was simple:

"The baby,” Stephanie Devaney said. “We have children. We don't want our children drinking this water or being in this water. We've seen the effects of what's happened."

Dozens of people gathered at the Capitol to voice their opinion on the current water situation.

Many of them said the contaminated water has negatively affected them.

"It turned my hair green,” Stephanie Devaney said. “It did. I was a blonde."

Her husband, Tom, was sent to the hospital with flu-like symptoms.

"They said I had exposure to contaminated water and I was spitting up like foam," he said.

On Monday, West Virginia American Water started lifting the do-not-use bans.

By Friday, all affected areas were cleared for flushing, and the water company ensured customers the water was once again safe to drink and use.

But those gathered at the Capitol had their doubts.

"This right here, I know you can't smell this on television, this is straight out of my tap this morning and it smells like licorice,” Josh Scott of Charleston said. “I won't put my kid in it. I won't put my wife in it. They say it's safe. It's not safe."

Even with water use bans lifted, the number of patients being treated for health problems related to the water scare has only increased.

Several people are claiming the water caused them to get sick, everything from skin and eye irritation, to vomiting and diarrhea.

And those rallying insisted it was all because the water company put money over people.

"If they were a nonprofit or not for profit, would they have turned the water back on this fast?” Scott said. “I don't think so. I don't think they would have."

Several lawsuits have been filed against both the water company and freedom industries, but a curveball was thrown when Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday, putting those lawsuits on a temporary hold.

“They're not going to take any responsibility for the damage that's done to my daughter or anybody else's family that's in this valley,” Cindy Harrah-Cox of Charleston said. “They're throwing us all under the bus, and I think that's wrong."
And now this group of frustrated water customers is hoping their outspoken actions will help get all their questions answered and the water completely chemical-free.

"We will stand up for ourselves,” Stephanie Devaney said. “We're not going to back down. You know we deserve fresh drinking water. We deserve clean water."

Another rally is set for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the capitol.

West Virginia American Water responding to customer concerns Saturday.

"I certainly agree with them,” Laura Jordan, with the water company, said. “I certainly understand and it's what we want, too. We would be right out there next to them, believing that all customers should have safe drinking water, a good drinking water source, and that's what we've been working on ever since this chemical spill last Thursday. Our employees have been working around the clock with government agencies, the National Guard and the Beareau for Public Health to try to remedy this chemical spill and how it affected our water resources and get that public confidence back.”

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