IEPA issues warning over Sauk Village water
BY CASEY TONER AND MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org July 16, 2012 4:16PM
Rodney Felton, 43, of Sauk Village, walks his bike past a disabled drinking fountain behind Village Hall Tuesday July 16, 2012. The five-year resident of the village says he's always drank bottled water since knowing the village uses well water. "I think they should suspend the payments until they get the situation settled", he said. "We're paying for contaminated water." | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:09AM
The level of a cancer-causing chemical in Sauk Village’s water supply has risen to a point that residents, by state law, must be notified about the increase.
But the Illinois Department of Public Health said Tuesday the level still is below the federal limit, and the water is safe to drink.
A crowd of about 250 turned out Tuesday night at a village board committee meeting, seeking answers and demanding that village officials take action to improve the quality of the drinking water. After meeting in closed session for about an hour with village trustees, Mayor Lewis Towers faced hostile questioning as he tried to reassure residents that the water is safe to drink.
Some residents broke into tears, while most attacked the village for allowing the chemical in the drinking water to reach a level to cause concern. One woman was escorted out of the meeting by village and Cook County police screaming, “Don’t drink the water.” All wanted to know whether it was safe to drink the water and how the village planned to correct the problem.
“Why are we just hearing about this today?” resident Bryan Grove asked. “No one waits until their car runs out of gas to put gasoline in it.”
Other residents said it’s not fair to blame the current administration for what has been a long-standing problem in Sauk Village.
Towers said the village is setting up an emergency plan to address the contaminated wells, including possibly reimbursing residents who buy bottled water.
“We know we have a serious issue with our water,” the mayor said. “You can still use the water until we get another direction from the IEPA.”
The village for years has been looking into a new water source, but it appears to be years from reality.
The IEPA says Sauk Village’s water has an elevated level of vinyl chloride, which is also the chemical at the center of a water scandal in Crestwood. That town faces hundreds of lawsuits from residents past and present who blame contaminated well water for various illnesses. Two former Crestwood water department officials are to go on trial next month in federal court.
Sauk Village resident Rodney Felton said the warning will cause him to even buy his dogs bottled water, adding that “you have to pay every two months for water that’s contaminated. It doesn’t make a bit of sense to me.”
The water in two village wells contains vinyl chloride at a level of 1.68 parts per billion. Federal law allows a maximum of 2 parts per billion, but Illinois law requires that residents whose water source exceeds 1 part per billion be notified.
Exposure to low levels of vinyl chloride can cause kidney or liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer, according to health officials. But Tiffanie Denny, an Illinois Department of Public Health manager, said the level in Sauk Village’s water is too low to hurt anyone.
“It’s OK if you want to drink the water, make ice with it and use it to water your vegetables,” Denny said.
She said consuming water with a larger concentration of the chemical over a longer period of time could pose a health risk.
IEPA official Rick Cobb said Sauk Village has about 11,000 residents and supplies water to two mobile home parks — Candlelight Village and Weatherstone Lakes — that have a total of about 450 residents. Cobb said the village will have to work with the IEPA to further treat its water supply to bring down the vinyl chloride level.
One of the village’s three wells was shut down in 2009 after the IEPA found unacceptable levels of vinyl chloride, and the agency has routinely tested water at the two remaining wells. The state has a lawsuit pending against the village regarding contamination of two wells.
In March, Sauk Village voters approved a plan to replace the wells with Lake Michigan water via Chicago Heights. But in a letter last month to Towers, the IEPA said the $19.7 million cost for the project is not cost-effective. Installing equipment to remove vinyl chloride from the well water would cost about $4.6 million.
Contributing: Matthew Bruce