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Judge’s order could put Real Water out of business

A federal judge signed an order on Tuesday that could effectively put Las Vegas-based Real Water permanently out of business in response to a deadly outbreak of liver disease tied to the product.

Should the company ever intend to resume operations, it must follow a long list of requirements that include a sanitation plan, a bottling plan, a food safety plan and an employee training program, according to the permanent injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey.

“As consumers, we count on bottled water companies to take appropriate measures in ensuring their water doesn’t make our families sick, particularly children,” Christopher Chiou, acting U.S. attorney for Nevada, said in a statement Tuesday. “The permanent injunction imposed on Real Water reflects the Department of Justice’s and FDA’s commitment to protecting the health of Nevadans and consumers across the country.”

Health officials and the Department of Justice have pointed to a series of sanitation and labeling failures that led to illnesses linked to the bottled water, which was manufactured in Henderson and Mesa, Arizona, before the company shut down operations.

In response to a lawsuit from the federal government, company president Brent Jones, a former Nevada legislator, agreed to recall and destroy any Real Water products last month. According to a news release issued by the DOJ on Tuesday, the defendants agreed to settle the suit and be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction.

Attorney Will Kemp, who has filed separate lawsuits on behalf of dozens of people who fell ill and one woman who died after drinking Real Water, said the judge’s order would make it nearly impossible for the company to recover.

If a plan were devised to restore the business, the company also would have to hire a safety inspector and undergo audits every three months for the first year and no less than every six months for the next two years.

“Theoretically, they could comply with it and stay in business,” Kemp said. “But I just don’t see it happening. It just seems like a lot of hoops to jump through.”

Attorneys for Real Water have not responded to requests for comment from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The company has not operated at its production plants since March, when the Southern Nevada Health District announced the outbreak and Kemp filed the first of at least a dozen lawsuits against Real Water.

Kemp’s firm reached an agreement with the property owners of the plants to pay rent for at least the next six months in order to preserve possible evidence.

Food and Drug Administration investigators searched the Henderson and Mesa plants and found that the company did not test processed tap water before it was bottled, according to the federal complaint filed last month.

The product loaded with concentrate and touted as “alkalized water infused with negative ions” and “the healthiest drinking water available” never underwent a “lethal treatment,” which meant that “any biological contamination would be passed on to the consumer,” the DOJ alleged.

While the government’s suit and judge’s order effectively shut down the business until a framework is arranged to resume production, complaints on behalf of people across the valley and others from out of state seek financial compensation for their illnesses.

Health officials have said they were first alerted in March to five cases of acute nonviral hepatitis, which causes liver failure, in infants and children from late last year. By the end of May, the Southern Nevada Health District said it had linked at least 11 more cases of severe liver disease to Real Water, including the case of a 69-year-old woman who died.

Through their attorneys, many of those who fell ill provided water samples to the FDA, which is expected to produce a report within the next few months, Kemp said.

“We still don’t know what’s in this stuff,” he said.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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