The lead water technician for Real Water—a Las Vegas-based company that produces “alkalized” bottled water now linked to liver failure cases—testified that he had no relevant experience to be a water technician when he was promoted to the position last August.
Real Water’s lead technician, Casey Aiken, 40, is a former vacuum and timeshare salesman who began working for Real Water last June after losing his job as a strip club promoter. According to a taped deposition from late March that was obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Aiken was promoted from his job of loading bottled water onto shipping pallets to the company’s lead technician after “a couple hours” of training.
In late November, just a few months after Aiken’s promotion, five infants and children who drank the water developed acute non-viral hepatitis, which led to acute liver failure, health officials say. The children ranged in age from 7 months to 5 years. Real Water’s branded water was the only common link between the cases.
Health officials didn’t connect the November cases to the water until March, however, when state and federal investigations were underway. On April 26, the Southern Nevada Health District announced it had identified six additional probable cases and one suspected case, all of which are in adults. The health district is now investigating 50 additional cases, and there are now at least 10 civil suits against Real Water, all alleging poisoning. Aiken’s video deposition was taken in connection with those civil suits.
But according to Aiken’s testimony, the company should have been aware of the problem with the water right when it occurred in November. Aiken’s own dog developed a liver illness that month after drinking water Aiken brought home from work. The dog recovered after his wife identified the water as the possible source of the illness and told Aiken to stop giving it to him.
“My wife’s a vet tech—a veterinarian technician—by trade, so [she’s] big on animals and she knows a lot about it, so she keeps the same diet—she’s very intricate with her animals,” Aiken said in his deposition.
After Aiken’s 2-year-old min pin/Chihuahua mix rescue dog drank the water, the dog started throwing up, and became lethargic. Aiken and his wife then took him to a veterinarian.
“It was an issue with his liver,” Aiken said. “We got him some pills. Three-hundred-dollar vet bill later, my wife, she’s the one that told me to stop giving him the water because she didn’t know what it was and that’s the only thing we changed, so we stopped giving the dog the water.”
“Did he get better?” attorney Will Kemp asked Aiken in the deposition.
“Yes,” Aiken replied.
It’s unclear if Aiken alerted the company to his dog’s illness and the potential problem with the water. However, Aiken said whatever the potential problem was, it wasn’t his fault.
When the state and federal investigators searched Real Water’s facilities in March, Blain Jones—the son of Real Water’s owner, Brent Jones—approached Aiken. According to Aiken, Blain asked him if he had altered the amount of a concentrate that the company added to their water. Aiken told attorney Kemp, “I was doing everything exactly the way they told me to do.”
But Aiken’s testimony suggested that he had not received adequate training for his role. Blain Jones was the one who promoted Aiken to lead technician and provided just a couple hours’ worth of training. Aiken was tasked with testing the water for contaminants with a device called an oxidation reduction potential meter. “I didn’t know what it was at all until he explained it to me and showed me,” Aiken said.
Backing up Aiken’s suggestion that the company should have been aware of the potential problems with the water back in November, a lawsuit filed by Kemp against Real Water alleges that late last year, the company tried to take back some of the suspect water. According to the Review-Journal, the suit states:
Real Water began to surreptitiously replace 5-gallon water that had already been delivered to home delivery customers without informing customers of the reason for the replacement… Real Water was only able to recover some of the home delivery water and that hundreds of gallons of water that Real Water had actual knowledge was toxic remained in households throughout Clark County.
Since the state and federal investigations began in March, Real Water has recalled its alkaline water products, which were available nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has said that some of the products are still offered online.
“It is crucial that consumers, restaurants, distributors, and retailers not drink, cook with, sell, or serve “Real Water” alkaline water,” the FDA said in its latest investigation update. “FDA also advises that this water not be served to pets.”