Sauk Village sued; bottled water giveaway begins
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org July 20, 2012 1:26PM
Updated: August 23, 2012 10:43AM
Sauk Village on Friday began giving free bottled water to its residents in the wake of revelations last week about the level of a cancer-causing chemical in the village’s water supply.
Meanwhile, a resident who is battling cancer filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing the village of negligence and failing to provide water that is not contaminated with vinyl chloride.
The lawsuit says Derrick Holt was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in April, and he did not have “sufficient information or knowledge that he was injured and that the injury was caused by the wrongful acts of others.” Holt’s wife, Diane, also is named as a plaintiff in the two-count suit, which seeks at least $100,000.
Mayor Lewis Towers did not immediately return calls for comment.
The suit notes that village officials were informed in 2009 by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that one of the village’s wells was contaminated with vinyl chloride. The village subsequently shut down the well. The IEPA continued testing water in the village’s two remaining wells, and the state has a lawsuit pending against the village over the contamination of those wells.
The IEPA on Monday announced that the level of vinyl chloride had risen to a point that residents must be notified of the increase.
While the Illinois Department of Public Health said the water is safe to drink, village trustees agreed during an emergency meeting Thursday night to buy $37,000 worth of bottled water, which will be handed out regularly at the Ed Paesel Community Center, 21701 Torrence Ave.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she had obtained a court order that forces the village to provide safe drinking water at the community center until a judge says otherwise.
The bottled water can be picked up Saturdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Proof of residency will be required, and residents can pick up a maximum of three gallons per day per household.
“I strongly advise residents to take full advantage of the opportunity to obtain clean drinking water,” Madigan said in a statement. “Clean water is absolutely necessary at any time but especially now with the extreme temperatures we’re experiencing.”
The village board also voted Thursday night to buy air strippers to clean up the water supply. Village manager Henrietta Turner said the village will install temporary air strippers to reduce the levels of vinyl chloride, a process that may take as long as 35 days and will cost about $515,000.
Additionally, the village plans to install permanent air strippers to clean the water, which will cost $860,000 and may take as long as four to six months, Turner said.
The air strippers, which reduce the level of vinyl chloride through aeration, will be located in a 12-foot tower near the wells on Sauk Trail.
Turner said the village is seeking reimbursement from the state for the bottled water and the strippers.
The purchases come at a financially precarious time for Sauk Village.
“It’s not something we’d be able to pay from our coffers,” Trustee Rosie Williams said.
Vinyl chloride also is 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 for allegedly lying to officials about mixing the tainted water with Lake Michigan water for the village’s drinking supply.
The water in two village wells in Sauk Village 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.
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.
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.
“For the residents, it’s very heartbreaking,” Trustee David Hanks said. “I have children that live here and it’s important we get this issue resolved as soon as possible.”