HWW customers issue letter of demand through Boston law firm

Housatonic Water Works customer Jody Brandt holding a sample of water from her faucet during a protest of the company In September. Brandt was one of many customers at the protest. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Great Barrington — An attorney representing 10 Housatonic Water Works customers issued a demand letter to the company on Wednesday, January 25. A copy of the letter was sent to The Berkshire Edge by Debra Herman, one of the customers represented by the law firm McGregor, Legere & Stevens of Boston.

Back in November, Herman, who is a member of the Housatonic Clean Water Alliance, announced that she hired the firm after a fundraising campaign.

According to the letter, the law firm represents 10 HWW customers: Herman, Rosemary Smith, Andrea Crofut, William Fields, Damon Vorie, Maja Stodte, Lucinda Hastings, Denise Forbes, Susan Magazine, and Tracee Augcomfar. The letter is addressed to HWW President Frederick Mercer and company Treasurer James Mercer, neither of whom would respond to emails for comment for this story.

The letter, which was written by attorney Michael J. O’Neill, accuses HWW of “unfair and deceptive acts or practices in trade or commerce” on account of “unsafe, unfit, impure, and also unreliable” water furnished by the company, under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

“HWW has been supplying unsafe water to the residents of Housatonic and its customers in West Stockbridge and Stockbridge for years,” O’Neill writes. “Residents receive brown water and are expected to drink it, serve it to their children, pets, and farm animals, cook with it, and bathe with it.”

O’Neill cites various news articles in the letter and incidents where the company violated state drinking water regulations. He goes on to write that the violations of drinking water violations are also violations of state General Law c.93A, under state General Regulation 3.16, that the company “fails to comply with existing statutes, rules, regulations or laws, meant for the protection of the public’s health, safety, or welfare promulgated by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof intended to provide the consumers.”

O’Neill goes on to accuse HWW of “unfair and deceptive acts.” He writes, “[The company’s] website states ‘for over 20 years, drinking water supplied by Housatonic Water Works has met or surpasses the EPA and state water quality standards,’ … HWW has incurred numerous violations from [MassDEP] declaring that the water does not meet state water quality standards. While in violation of [MassDEP] water quality standards, HWW told its customers that the water was safe to drink while at the same time, and confusingly, not guaranteeing its safety.”

Screenshot of Housatonic Water Works’ website lists that “for over 20 years, drinking water supplied by Housatonic Water Works has met or surpasses the EPA and state water quality standards.”

In his letter, O’Neill lists several incidents throughout 2022 concerning high levels of HAA5 and manganese found in HWW’s water supply, along with the company’s responses to the incidents, specifically Treasurer Mercer’s responses. “In less than four months, [James] Mercer confused and deceived the public,” O’Neill wrote. “The residents of Housatonic do not trust HWW because Mr. Mercer has made numerous conflicting statements. If the owner and operator of a company cannot tell a consumer that their product is safe, then who can?”

O’Neill goes on to accuse HWW of a breach of warranties and that his clients, and all HWW customers, have “suffered injuries, harms, and damages.” He writes, “Our clients have suffered emotional distress, paid for undrinkable water, purchased bottled water, paid for laundromat service in neighboring towns, and purchased water filtration systems. These water filtration systems have filters that need to be replaced regularly. Our clients are having to replace their filters much more frequently because of the dirty water than the manufacturer recommends. This is costing our clients additional money and time. These issues affect both private residences and commercial businesses in Housatonic.”

Towards the end of the letter, O’Neill states, “[O]ur clients demand safe, fit, pure and reliable water immediately.” He explains, “Until HWW furnishes such water, our clients demand that HWW provide them with filtration systems at no cost to them for purchase, installation, operation, maintenance or repair. Our clients also demand monetary damages in the amount of $3,000 per family.”

O’Neill added that the company had 30 days to respond to the demand letter, and failure of a response to the letter “would compel the commencement of a lawsuit.”

Herman wrote to The Berkshire Edge that she would defer all questions to Attorney O’Neill. O’Neill did not respond to emails requesting comments for this story.

Click here to read the letter from attorney Michael J. O’Neill in its entirety.

Click here to read the exhibits letter that was sent along with the demand letter.

Previous stories about Housatonic Water Works:

January 25: Elevated HAA5 levels continue to be found in Housatonic Water Works water supply.

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