Affected customers seek safe drinking water following water advisory

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EAST LAWRENCE, Ala. (WHNT)- In East Lawrence, they're a tight-knit community. But that's one of several communities dealing with a water problem.

The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and the West Lawrence Water Co-op are advising customers not to drink the water until further notice.

The advisory is connected to an Environmental Protection Agency advisory regarding chemicals in the water.  The EPA recently lowered what it considers to be safe levels for the chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS.)

Stores including the East Lawrence Dollar General Plus are selling water fast.

"Two of our employees, that's basically all they've had time to do is put water on the shelf," explained Liz Reed, assistant store manager. "The shelves are emptying just as soon as they put it out."

"Don't drink the water? It's got to be serious," said Ron Whitehead, a Moulton resident. He came to the Dollar General Plus in East Lawrence to pick up cases of bottled water. "I came here immediately to get some water so that we don't drink the water, make ice cubes out of the water, we don't feed it to our pets now," he said. "It's a terrible imposition."

But Whitehead has other concerns, too. He's worried when the cost of buying bottled water will take its toll on his budget.

"We're on a fixed income, and we can't afford this," he said. "This is just an added expense that nobody expects."

He's also feeling a bit betrayed. "We pay our water bill expecting to get quality water. All of a sudden, we find out we've been paying this water bill and we've been lied to."

Kylene Chenault shared in Whitehead's frustration. "It's got everybody really concerned and upset," she said. "Everybody has been drinking this water, using this water." She had many questions, but felt like she had limited answers. She questioned how long the water had been unsafe, and the customers kept drinking it without knowledge.

Thursday's water announcement also came as a surprise to local Emergency Management Agencies, we're told. Lawrence County's EMA director, Johnny Cantrell, said, "We were brought into this late. We weren't notified of the press conference."

Cantrell said while customers have been rushing to get bottled water, he's been collaborating with the Morgan County EMA, along with regional and state EMA officials, to work on a plan to help affected residents as fast as possible.  He discussed the possibility of creating a bottled water distribution around the county, but wasn't sure how it would work yet. Cantrell explained the problem is he's waiting on others to turn options into action.

"We are going to try to find avenues to get people water, we just don't know what those options are yet," he explained late Thursday. "We really want to see what West Morgan East Lawrence wants to do, and we're going to try to help them. We want to take care of the people in our counties, that's the main goal."

Cantrell is hoping for a meeting Friday so the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority and the emergency management agencies, along with other companies, can solidify plans for assistance. He cautioned that it would take a few more days to execute.

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