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Class action lawsuit brought Mo. American Water
Southern Platte County customers affected

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark reporter

A legal team is bringing a class action lawsuit against Missouri-American Water alleging high levels of sediment buildup have caused property damage to customers' appliances and plumbing in Platte County.

The complaint, filed by Kansas City-based Williams Dirks Dameron, asserts the water company failed to ensure that the water it provides to its customers in Platte County is “suitable for ordinary use.”

Jason Strohm of the Thousand Oaks subdivision was first to publicly accuse the Missouri-American Water Company for supplying metered water that causes calcium scaling that can severely damage appliances. Back in February 2016, Strohm gave sworn testimony before the Missouri Public Service Commission about harmful effects the water was having on appliances.

Issues began at the end of 2010 when sediment collected in the filters and aerators on faucets at his residence in the 6600 block of NW Hickory Drive in Parkville. By January 2011, Strohm's dishwasher stopped working so he solicited the help of a repair technician. After identifying sediment as the cause, it was removed from the appliance.

But four months later the same dishwasher was once again on the fritz. The expert returned to the property and cleaned out the dishwater's aerator. While he was there, the expert found sediment buildup on the aerator at the kitchen sink, back of the refrigerator and water heater.

“At this time, the technician identified the problem was likely the sediment,” states court documents.

A short time later, the ice maker and water dispenser of Strohm's refrigerator stopped working. When a representative from the refrigerator manufacturer came to repair the appliance, sediment was once again found to be the culprit, according to the court documents.

Strohm claimed defective water provided by Missouri-American Water caused severe property damage to his refrigerator, water heater, dishwasher, faucets and toilets.

The lawsuit also contends the water company failed to rectify the problem even after receiving repeated complaints.

Missouri-American Water “attempted to blow out sediment from the water main servicing plaintiff and his neighbors by letting the hydrants run for 10 minutes. This attempt was unsuccessful in that it did not remedy or halt the damage caused to plaintiff's property by defendant's defective water,” states the lawsuit.

Following this failed attempt, countless water-using devices continued to break down at Strohm's residence, prompting him to file a claim against the water company's insurance policy. Strohm's claimed was denied and blamed on an “internal” issue.

That same month, Missouri-American Water offered to install an “in line filter” where the water service line entered Strohm's residence. They alleged the filter would resolve any “internal issues” with his water-using devices. The water company urged Strohm to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for services rendered.

Still, the installation of the filter did not remedy the problem. The lawsuit states Strohm continued to “observe high levels of sediment in water discharging from his taps, and has been forced to continually clean and replace aerators, filters, screens and water lines throughout his home.”

Widespread problem
A host of other consumers have reported similar concerns.

During a public hearing before the Missouri Public Service Commission at the Riverside City Hall in February 2016, Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston took to the podium to announce she received numerous complaints about water quality from Parkville residents. She said it was difficult to gauge just how many residents were
dealing with the problem, but generally it was limited to Riss Lake, Thousand Oaks and The National subdivisions.

“Our residents are angry about the rates and angry about the water quality,” Johnston told the commission at that 2016 hearing.

The lawsuit contends a spokesperson for the water company acknowledged that some other customers were experiencing similar issues but assured those in attendance it was their intention to rectify the problem.

And to some it appeared they had. On Monday, Johnston reiterated her earlier statement but reported no recent complaints.

“The city received a large number of calls and emails in early to mid-2016 from concerned residents regarding mineral deposits, some quite severe,” said Johnston.

“Missouri American Water performed technology upgrades later that year, and I am not aware of any issues reported to the city since that time. Some of our elected officials have seen social media conversations about lingering issues, but nothing has been reported to City Hall.”

Others contend the problem has not been effectively resolved.

Attorney Matt Dameron with Williams Dirks Dameron said the feedback his firm has received indicates the problem is “persistent and ongoing.”

The lawsuit puts the Missouri American Water Company on notice that they may be held accountable for allegedly “failing to ensure that the water it provides to its Platte County customers is free from sediment and fit for ordinary purposes, including use for washing, watering lawns and in household appliances.”

Class action lawsuit
The court recently certified the lawsuit as a class action and appointed attorney Scott Campbell of Platte City as special master in the case. A special master is generally appointed to make sure that judicial orders are followed.

Now that the case is moving forward as a class action, the legal team sent the class—consisting of approximately 6,800 residents—information about the ongoing lawsuit, as well as a questionnaire.

Residents were given until Oct. 7 to respond to the legal team's questionnaire. Any residents that fail to respond will remain in the class action suit unless they ask to be excluded from the class.

Attorney Dameron said he hopes the water company takes the allegations seriously.

“There is something uniformly occurring with the way the Missouri-American Water Company is treating their water. When it is sent out of that plant it has a high propensity to cause calcium scaling,” said Dameron.

When asked if the water was safe to drink, Dameron said the sediment has no known effect on the safety of its consumption as drinking water.

“Based on our research, there is nothing identifying it as harmful for consumption. It is important to keep in mind that the Missouri American Water Company submits water safety studies to the Department of Natural Resources for consumability on a frequent basis. There is no indication from regulators or from the firm's independent research that this causes any sort of safety problems, but there is no question that the sediment causes property damage.”

Dameron said he has heard from countless water customers claiming they have had to replace their water heater because it is full of sediment, even if it was installed two years earlier.

“The City of Kansas City sources its water from the Missouri River just like the Missouri-American Water Company, but you don't hear about these calcium scaling problems in the City of Kansas City. In Northland communities that are being serviced by the City of Kansas City we just don't hear about water heaters going out in two to three years.”

The water company denies any wrongdoing alleged in the class action lawsuit and petitioned the court to dismiss the case. Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg denied their petition and set a hearing for Nov. 9.

If litigation between the parties continues without a settlement, a trial is scheduled to begin March 4.

“We think the case is a good candidate for trial, given that we have a very strong case on the merits,” said Dameron. “The court has already certified it as a class action and the appellate court has reviewed the circuit court's decision. The higher court decided not to go against the previous judgment.”

Dameron also pointed out that the Missouri American Water Company recently spent $4 million to acquire a new water and wastewater system in Lawson.

“I think it is an odd business decision for them to use money they have collected in Platte County and spend it expanding their operation in another county, particularly when you have a water system here with a pretty severe problem that needs to be corrected.”

Statement from Missouri American Water
The Landmark reached out to officials of Missouri American Water for comment. On Wednesday morning, Christie Barnhart, external affairs manager, provided the following statement from the company:

“A new water treatment plant began serving the customers of Platte County on Dec. 31, 2017. Prior to the construction of the new water treatment plant, a step was added to the water treatment process at our previous plant designed to reduce calcium build-up.

“We have had significant community outreach in Platte County. A community open house was held at the new water treatment plant on June 28, 2018 and it was attended by over 300 customers. No customers in attendance had any issues with the quality of the water.

“Back in March 2016, customers were invited to a public meeting in Riverside in order to voice concerns and learn more about the steps Missouri American Water was taking to address the issue.

“Another public hearing was held on Jan. 22, 2018 by the Missouri Public Service Commission in Riverside. At that hearing, only one individual brought forth a water quality complaint. Missouri American Water employees resolved the issue the next day. A notice of this public hearing was mailed to all customers in Platte County prior to the hearing.

“In 2016, the Missouri Public Service Commission performed an investigation with regard to calcium scaling in Platte County. It found that Missouri American Water took steps to study the matter and multiple attempts to seek a resolution, including incurring the substantial capital expense in adding a new carbon dioxide step to the treatment process to reduce the PH of the water.

“It is important to note that this is not a health issue, and that the water provided by Missouri American Water has and continues to meet and exceed all state and federal regulations for drinking water.

“To date our Customer Service Center has received one complaint from Platte County regarding water quality specific to calcium build-up this year.

“As always, if any customer has a water issue, Missouri American Water would like them to contact us at 866-430-0820.”