NORTH COURTLAND, Ala. - A doctor recently confirmed what some Lawrence County residents say they've always known: there's something in the Tennessee River, and they say it's a silent killer.
Jeffery Steward says he's on a series of medications to combat kidney and gallbladder problems after years of drinking the water.
"I'm scared to have a cup of coffee, or tea or anything," he said.
He calls the local water situation pitiful, saying he has to watch visiting family and friends to make sure they don't drink anything from the tap.
He's one of many, especially in the Courtland and North Courtland areas, who say a trend of similar illnesses stem from the water they drink and bathe with.
Not far from Steward is the lifelong home of Betty Nance. She and her late husband built the home, raised their kids there, and it's also where she watched his health deteriorate.
"Before the situation with the water came up, my husband was diagnosed with kidney disease," she said.
March will make three years since his passing. Nance said he loved to drink water, even after a doctor in Florence told him whatever he was drinking was breaking down his body, according to her. Before he passed, he dealt with diabetes, sores on his feet, and a series of strokes; all of his ailments had him on sixteen pills a day.
Nance deals with arthritis and sinus infections, and says major illness continues to affect her neighbors and her family.
"I've got two granddaughters that turned diabetic at ten years old," said Nance. "The water was bad before people started testing it, saying it was bad."
The research and associated battle continues over what's really in the Tennessee River. The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, which initially brought water contamination to the forefront, says their water is now safe, following the installation of a filtration system. Area water companies, including Decatur Utilities and Hartselle Utilities, say their water has always been safe, and is subject to regular testing.
The Warriors for Clean Water collect cases of water and deliver them to elderly and homebound people in the area. They also allow public access to excess water they collect. If you want to help with water donations, you can contact them through their Facebook page to coordinate a drop-off time.
In the meantime, residents are relying solely on bottled water, while they're concerned for the next generation.
"It's harming a lot more people," said Steward. "Especially the young generation that's coming up, they're not going to make it because of the water."
"I would like to see them straighten the water out," said Nance. "When I'm gone I still want a safe environment for my grandkids, my great-grandkids."