State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) hosted a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, with Gary Cox, Commissioner of Health for the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), and a team of health professionals. The purpose was to begin reviewing health complaints directly from residents of Heavener who have complained of illnesses ranging from body rashes from bathing or showering, hair falling out on the backs of heads, vomiting, diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and organs – such as colons – rupturing.
"OSDH officials requested meeting with a small sample group of residents who have complained in writing of their health issues to try and gauge the severity of complaints,” Kiger said. “OSDH officials asked those attending to tell them where people in this area go for treatment, if their doctors are taking cultures and what are the results of any cultures."
OSDH officials also met with a small number of Heavener business people to hear the hardships they are experiencing from the dirty water and the difficulty it's causing them financially to stay in business, Kiger said.
The group of approximately 12 people confirmed there have been at least 10 or more water line breaks or outages year-to-date affecting water color and ruining home and business appliances.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the OSDH officials announced they would meet internally and look at different options on how to approach more residents to gain the needed information for proper evaluation of all the possible effects the water has on the health of the people in Heavener.
Kiger asked Commissioner Cox if he could provide any details of the next steps that the OSDH will take. Commissioner Cox responded that all options are still on the table for gaining additional information from the larger population. This could include a private survey available to all Heavener residents to fill out confidentially and send back in, or even providing residents with a physical evaluation at the LeFlore County Health Department in Poteau.
Commissioner Cox said he would contact with Rep. Kiger after his team convenes and they make their final decision on how best to proceed and the next possible steps.
Kiger thanked the residents for taking time out of their day to attend this meeting and for telling their stories to the OSHD team and sharing how important this first step was in the process.
Kiger reiterated to OSDH, “The only thing we are trying to accomplish is to determine if the dirty water has or is causing health issues to anyone who lived in Heavener over the past 25 years.”
“If it has, the people deserve to know. If it hasn’t, the people also deserve to know to give them peace of mind,” Kiger added.
Kiger said he has received many emails from local residents, but he has also received over a dozen written complaints or calls from people who grew up in Heavener and are now on medications with stomach illnesses as experienced by many who live in Heavener today.
One of the residents also stated this week is the first time they have smelled chlorine in the water coming out of their tap. Some attending Wednesday’s meeting also said they are starting to see the water clearing up some, but it still has a sour or sewer odor. They have hopes the water treatment plant repairs, mandated by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) inspection, will be completed soon, clearing up the water, and the city can begin the work on repairing deficient or broken water lines. The DEQ report issued Sept. 23, 2019, stated the Heavener water distribution system loses more produced water per person than any other town in Oklahoma.
Kiger warned the people attending Wednesday they may start seeing the color of the water improve but not to get their hopes up too quickly, because there’s still a lot that needs to be done for the people of Heavener.
“Let’s wait until the water treatment plant has functioning water filters with the capabilities of properly back flushing, the second lagoon is cleaned of vegetation and is functional, the turbidity meters are set in the proper locations and getting the correct readings, the technicians are able to properly identify the alarms and make the needed corrections, the correct chemicals and amounts are being applied per regulations, the pH levels constantly reach over 7%, and the chlorine and proper water pressure are reaching all of the homes in town.
“When all of this occurs, I believe we can get excited. I believe this day will arrive soon for everyone”, Kiger Said.