Commander, son drink Hannam water to prove it’s mercury-free
May 11, 2007
SEOUL — Seven-year-old Andrew Stephens didn’t choke, gag or fall to floor after drinking a glass of tap water at Hannam Village on Wednesday.
Instead, he turned to his father, Yongsan Garrison commander Col. Ron Stephens, and asked for another glass.
Andrew, his father and Brig. Gen. Al Aycock, who runs Installation Command Korea, all spent time drinking the tap water on Hannam Village on Wednesday in an effort to revive residents’ confidence in the water following a recent mercury scare.
“In my opinion, most of the residents at Hannam Village, their concern is for their children,” Stephens said. “I wouldn’t have my son drink this water if I wasn’t confident there was no mercury in it.”
On Friday, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine at Camp Zama, Japan, alerted Yongsan that a monthly drinking water sample taken April 6 was positive for mercury: slightly more than allowed in Hannam’s water and nearly five times the acceptable level in samples from the Army Corps of Engineers Far East District Compound.
Yongsan officials scrambled to alert residents — warning them not to use the water for brushing their teeth, cooking or drinking. They placed several 1,000-gallon water tanks on Hannam and held a special town hall meeting on Sunday to answer concerns.
New samples were rushed through an approved South Korean lab and when the results returned Tuesday evening showed negative for mercury, officials breathed a sigh of relief.
Still, they say they realize that it could take some time to convince those living in the housing units that the water is safe for consumption. They plan to continue testing the water weekly for a month and will leave the tanks in the housing area.
Resident reaction to the announcements — as well as the VIP visitors at an apartment to drink the water Wednesday — ranged from tepid to boiling.
“It’s kind of iffy,” said Spc. Amanda Sawyer, 142nd Military Police Company. “It’s kind of easy to say ‘your water is safe.’ I’ve got my little one to worry about.”
After seeing a picture of Aycock, Stephens and his son drinking the water, she said she felt a bit more comfortable with the thought of using it.
“If he’s willing to subject his kid to it, the water must be okay,” she said.
Civilian worker Chris Lyos also was impressed after seeing the photos.
“It’s awesome that the leaders are confident enough that the water is safe to drink it,” he said.
Others, however, weren’t convinced.
“They don’t live here. They don’t drink it every day like we do. They drank it one time,” said Shelia Kirkley. “Do they consume it every day? Do they use it to cook? Do they brush their teeth with it? I don’t trust the water here.”
Spc. Stephanie Vallucci said she’s going to stick to bottled water.
“If he wants to put his child in that position, that’s his problem,” she said.
Garrison officials have been unable to explain why the April samples showed mercury.
Additional sample results are expected from the Army lab in Japan on Thursday, officials have said.
The water is provided to the installations by Seoul city, which also tested for mercury on Monday. Seoul officials said they found no sign of the higher mercury levels after testing at 10 locations.