DENVER (CBS4)– A Commerce City family has been awarded nearly $1 million in damages after drinking water contaminated with raw sewage. Other families could be in the same situation.
The company, AquaKleen, has thousands of customers and there have been dozens of families identified as having the same problem as the Cattaneo family.
Residents in Commerce City are being asked to check their water purification systems to ensure they are not at risk.
It was December 2006 when Nick and Roxanne Cattaneo were living in their home in Commerce City.
It is not unusual for residents in that town to complain of the taste of their water because it usually contains a high mineral content.
The Cattaneos bought a water purification system from AquaKleen but the taste of their water never improved. In fact, they claimed it worsened and began to smell like feces.
AquaKleen said they tested the water but never for contaminants.
“The Cattaneos keep calling, the company keeps saying, ‘We’re testing your water, it’s fine, it’s fine’ and the Cattaneos keep using it,” said attorney Dan Caplis.
A plumber discovered the problem; AquaKleen installed the system with a drain into the Cattaneo’s sewer line. Suction from the pipe brought raw sewage out of the pipe and mixed it with the clean drinking water.
“This could be a horrific problem when you think about the health consequences,” said Caplis.
Less than a month after exposure, Nick Cattaneo was diagnosed with Crone’s disease. Doctors said it was a direct result of his drinking contaminated water.
Caplis said AquaKleen initially called the improperly installed system an isolated incident but in preparation for the trial, AquaKleen inspected 58 of their water softener filtration systems in Commerce City. All 58 were improperly installed and 20 of those had the exact same problem impacting the Cattaneo family.
“In Colorado alone there are thousands of AquaKleen installations. People need to check to see if their drinking water is not connect to their sewer water,” said Caplis.
South Adams Water and Sanitation sent AquaKleen a notice stating a permit for installation was never issued. The letter states the work AquaKleen conducted was “a risk to the entire water system” and demanded to know how many installations had been performed.
AquaKleen initially said 13 but six years later and just one month before trial the company revealed the actual number of installations was 150 in Commerce City.
AquaKleen did not return repeated requests for comment on the lawsuit judgement.
Water managers are concerned that damages from AquaKleen could have harmed entire water systems because of the sewage backups are large enough, and over time, it could not only contaminate one home, but several on a city block.