Crestwood well water lawsuits will stand alone
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com May 16, 2012 8:14PM
A water fountain in Playfield Park sits adjacent to a well and water tower where contaminated water mixed with the village's drinking water in Crestwood. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:07AM
Dozens of current and former Crestwood residents who blame contaminated well water for causing a host of illnesses will have to argue their claims individually after a Cook County judge this week denied merging their lawsuits.
Plaintiffs, who number about 200, had sought class certification to pursue their claims jointly, which potentially could have saved them significant legal expenses.
But a judge said their claims were far too diverse to lump together. Some have blamed tainted water for illnesses including kidney problems, tumors, different types of cancer and immune system disorders.
Frank Scaccia, Crestwood’s former water system operator, and Theresa Neubauer, former water department clerk and supervisor, are accused by federal authorities of lying to state environmental regulators about using tainted well water to supplement Crestwood’s drinking water supply from Lake Michigan. Scaccia and Neubauer — who has been on leave as Crestwood’s police chief since the federal indictment was unsealed in August — are scheduled to go on trial this summer.
The village told residents and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency it was using only Lake Michigan water after 1985, when it discovered a village well had been tainted by vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. But regulators later discovered the village continued to use the well for as much as 20 percent of its water from 1985 to 2007.
Village officials have maintained that because the well water was diluted with lake water, any traces of vinyl chloride were at levels far too low to cause health issues.
In citing an Illinois Supreme Court ruling on a prior case involving similar claims of people sickened after exposure to toxic chemicals, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen said the court found that variables such as degree of exposure, age and medical history made it impossible to create a uniform class of plaintiffs.
In the Crestwood lawsuits, determining “proximate causation,” or whether the well water was directly linked to health problems, and whether the village is liable, will involve similar “highly individual determinations,” meaning each plaintiff’s case would need to be argued on an individual basis, Cohen wrote.
David Sosin, Crestwood’s village attorney, called Cohen’s ruling a “very important decision in this case.” An attorney representing some of the current and former residents in their lawsuits against the village did not return a call seeking comment.