In the summer of 1986, Dale Patton, the president of Richmond-based manufacturer Old Mansion, fielded complaints that his company's signature product, its coffee, tasted "peculiar," with a "chemical aroma." The Aug. 5 issue of Style cited Patton saying that after his company conducted lab tests, it determined that the problem was "no doubt" the James River water. "So far, no business has been lost," we reported.
A Sept. 9, 1986, feature titled "The Mighty James: Is It Fit to Drink?" answered the question as yes — despite an incident five years ago when "algae bloomed with the speed of lovesick rabbits" and the water smelled like "the century-old pit toilets in the stone restrooms just south of the last train station on the southwestern tip of Spain."
"There are probably purer sources of water in the United States than the James River," said Morgan Rogers, senior utility engineer for Richmond's treatment plant. "But then there are probably more contaminated sources of water than the James River, too." Cold comfort.