Mayor: ‘Af­flu­ent, white sub­urb’ would have fix

1,500 cus­tomers in Univer­sity Park con­tinue to have lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter af­ter 16 months

Daily Southtown - - Front Page - By Bill Jones

“It’s one of those things you just take for granted is your wa­ter, and I can’t any­more.” — Phyl­lis Saun­ders, Univer­sity Park res­i­dent

With 1,500 Univer­sity Park cus­tomers still threat­ened by po­ten­tially high lead lev­els in their wa­ter, lo­cal of­fi­cials de­manded ac­tion this week­end, say­ing the prob­lem would have been re­solved if it­was hap­pen­ing in “an af­flu­ent, white sub­urb.”

The Rev. Jesse Jack­son also joined the fight, speak­ing out at the Satur­day town hall event and call­ing for more at­ten­tion on Univer­sity Park’s plight.

“If your neigh­bor’s house is on fire, you don’t need an in­vi­ta­tion to come put out the fire — be­cause you care, be­cause you sup­port them,” Jack­son said.

Res­i­dents of Univer­sity Park have “played by the rules” and be­came prop­erty own­ers, he said. But they still can­not get clean wa­ter.

“Some­thing about that’s not right,” he said.

His com­ments came dur­ing the two-hour event fea­tur­ing mem­bers of the Village Board as well as other lo­cal, state and fed­eral of­fi­cials. It was de­signed to pro­vide a State of the Village up­date and give res­i­dents an op­por­tu­nity to sub­mit writ­ten ques­tions. While the town hall cov­ered a breadth of top­ics, the wa­ter is­sue was a con­stant re­frain for of­fi­cials, who say they want to see more ur­gency in solv­ing this is­sue.

“My po­si­tion on be­half of the res­i­dents has been con­sis­tent and clear: If Univer­sity Park were an af­flu­ent, white sub­urb, in­stead of an African-Amer­i­can one, our wa­ter would not still be lead­con­tam­i­nated af­ter 16 months,” Univer­sity Park Mayor Joseph Roudez said.

Aqua Illi­nois no­ti­fied cus­tomers in June 2019 that el­e­vated lead lev­els had been de­tected in sam­ples taken from some of their homes. The com­pany re­port­edly de­tected el­e­vated lead lev­els at 14

village prop­er­ties shortly af­ter chang­ing its treat­ment process. Aqua is­sued a “do not con­sume” ad­vi­sory for roughly 2,400 cus­tomers at that time.

In mid-Au­gust of 2019, the Illi­noisAt­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice and Will County State’s At­tor­ney’s Of­fice filed a law­suit against Aqua Illi­nois, al­leg­ing the com­pany failed to pro­vide a safe wa­ter sup­ply in Univer­sity Park. The At­tor­ney Gen­eral said Aqua switched its wa­ter sup­ply to the Kanka­kee River and be­gan adding a blended phos­phate mix to the pub­lic wa­ter sys­tem to help with the taste. But that was thought to have caused a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion that re­moved a pro­tec­tive layer in res­i­den­tial plumb­ing, which al­lowed lead to leach into the­wa­ter of homes and busi­nesses. The law­suit sought im­me­di­ate ac­tion from the com­pany, in ad­di­tion to civil penal­ties.

Tori Joseph, deputy press sec­re­tary for the Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral, said the lat­est up­date in the le­gal pro­ceed­ings has been amo­tion by the at­tor­ney gen­eral last month to strike af­fir­ma­tive de­fenses posed by Aqua. The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice is con­tin­u­ing to de­mand “as­suredly safe” wa­ter for Univer­sity Park res­i­dents and has ar­gued that is not im­pos­si­ble.

“We con­tinue to re­ceive monthly re­ports from Aqua,” Joseph said. “Our top pri­or­ity is en­sur­ing that res­i­dentshave ac­cess tosafe drink­ing­wa­ter.”

Aqua re­sponded to that mo­tion in mid-Septem­ber, ar­gu­ing the lead is not within its in­fra­struc­ture but in­ter­nal pipes owned by im­pacted res­i­dents. The com­pany said the sit­u­a­tion in­volves a unique set of cir­cum­stances. The next hear­ing re­gard­ing that mo­tion is slated for Oct. 14.

Aqua has been pro­vid­ing bot­tled­wa­ter, pitch­ers with fil­ters, and faucet fil­ters to the im­pacted res­i­dents. But Roudez said there are roughly 1,500 cus­tomers in Univer­sity Park who are un­der awa­ter ad­vi­sory.

“It sad­dens me to think that, 15 months later, we’re still fight­ing this up­hill bat­tle with Aqua Illi­nois,” Trustee Donzell Franklin said. “I’m will­ing to take it a

step far­ther and say, if the an­i­mals at Brookfield Zoo were ex­posed to the lev­els of lead that some of our village res­i­dents have been ex­posed to, there would be more of an ur­gency. There would be more fed­eral sup­port, state sup­port to make sure this is rec­ti­fied.”

Univer­sity Park is lo­cated in an area that has been des­ig­nated by the Illi­noisEn­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency as an area of en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice con­cern be­cause its per­cent­age of low-in­come and/or mi­nor­ity res­i­dents is twice the state av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s of­fice.

Roudez de­manded a list of con­ces­sions from Aqua, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing clean wa­ter for res­i­dents, in­clud­ing an en­dow­ment fund for un­fore­seen con­se­quences caused by the con­tam­i­nated wa­ter. Roudez said par­ents mixed this wa­ter with baby for­mula and fam­i­lies gave it to their chil­dren with­out know­ing it­was con­tam­i­nated.

Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion notes there is no safe level of lead in drink­ing wa­ter for chil­dren.

“I would sug­gest you waste no more time, and spend what­ever dol­lars are nec­es­sary to cor­rect this gross vi­o­la­tion of your com­pany’s pub­lic trust as a nec­es­sary util­ity provider,” Roudez said. “No con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments, no sweep­ing of­fenses un­der the rug, no deals — Aqua Wa­ter is go­ing to pay for what they’ve done. On that, you have­my­word.”

Mered­ith Krantz, a spokesper­son for Aqua Illi­nois, said by email Sun­day that the com­pany has made sig­nif­i­cant progress, restor­ing “high wa­ter qual­ity” to 89% of the homes reg­u­larly sam­pled. The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency stan­dard is 90 %.

The com­pany also notes the wa­ter un­der this ad­vi­sory is OK to drink when res­i­dents run their cold tap wa­ter for 2 to 3 min­utes, and fil­ter cold tap wa­ter through a faucet or pitcher fil­ter cer­ti­fied to re­move lead. Aqua re­port­edly has pro­vided more than 5,494 pitcher and faucet fil­ters, and an­other 6,431 fil­ter re­place­ments in Univer­sity Park.

Krantzurge­d res­i­dents to reg­u­larly use their tap wa

ter as the com­pan yworks to re­store a pro­tec­tive lin­ing to in­ter­nal pipes. But Roudez re­mains re­luc­tant to ask res­i­dents to do that, and said they are in­cur­ring higher sewage bills than usual as a re­sult. Krantz said this is not the case, as those rates have been capped based on pre-ad­vi­sory us­age.

Krantz said that be­ing un­der ad­vi­sory does not nec­es­sar­ily mean all 1,500 of those homes have been im­pacted by el­e­vated lev­els of lead. Some were built af­ter 1990 and should not legally have lead sol­der in the in­ter­nal plumb­ing, she said. Other homes have tested below the EPA stan­dard of 15 parts per bil­lion, she said.

Krantz said that Aqua has of­fered all Univer­sity Park cus­tomers, free of charge, com­pre­hen­sive home lead and blood lead level test­ing.

But there is no con­crete time­line on when stan­dards will be met for all of Univer­sity Park, Krantz said.

“The na­tional reg­u­la­tory process for ad­dress­ing el­e­vated lev­els of lead is de­tailed and re­quires a num­ber of steps that take time,”

she said. “Con­sis­tent with these reg­u­la­tions, we are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to achieve the so­lu­tion for the se­lect cus­tomers who re­main im­pacted.”

She did not im­me­di­ately have num­bers avail­able re­gard­ing how many res­i­dents un­der ad­vi­sory have been com­ply­ing with Aqua’s re­quest to use their tap wa­ter through­out the process.

“We are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to achieve a so­lu­tion for those who re­main im­pacted, and all data in­di­cates that our treat­ment is work­ing ef­fec­tively,” she wrote. “Through our co­or­di­nated response, we are con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing the treat­ment, and have more than dou­bled our sam­pling pool— an­a­lyz­ing more than 4,500 wa­ter sam­ples through our monthly pro­gram — and we con­tinue to pro­vide in-home vis­its to clean and an­a­lyze faucet and plumb­ing fix­tures.”

Krantz said the com­pany is try­ing to keep an open line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with of­fi­cials and res­i­dents. She said Aqua was not specif­i­cally in­vited to the open, pub­lic meet­ing but pro­vided Univer­sity Park’s of­fi­cials with the lat­est in­for­ma­tion be­fore it. She said Aqua has been up­dat­ing cus­tomers di­rectly, as well, at­wa­ter­fact­sil.com.

“The health and safety of our cus­tomers are at the heart of ev­ery­thing we do, and noth­ing is more im­por­tant tous than achiev­ing the long-term so­lu­tion for im­pacted cus­tomers,” Krantz said in the emailed state­ment. “As we con­tinue work­ing with na­tional ex­perts and cus­tomers un­der reg­u­la­tory guid­ance to re­store the best qual­ity of wa­ter for im­pacted Univer­sity Park res­i­dents, we will con­tinue pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion and re­sources to be a good com­mu­nity part­ner.”

But res­i­dents who at­tended the town hall said they are tired of wait­ing. They want less talk and more so­lu­tions.

Phyl­lis Saun­ders, of Univer­sity Park, dur­ing the town hall held a sign read­ing, “For­get the Kool-Aid. Don’t drink the U.P. Wa­ter!”

Saun­ders said she bought an of­fice-style wa­ter dis­penser for her home be­cause she still does not trust her tap­wa­ter.

“It’s one of those things you just take for granted is your wa­ter, and I can’t any­more,” Saun­ders said. “The only thing that helps me is they’re still giv­ing me some wa­ter.”

Pat Cooper, who lives in Univer­sity Park’s Thorn­wood House Apart­ments, also held a sign de­mand­ing clean wa­ter at home rather than through bot­tles, ask­ing when wa­ter would be clear again. Cooper said she is still with­out what she con­sid­ers drink­able wa­ter from her tap.

“I’ve got my feel­ings about the wa­ter com­pany, be­lieve me,” Cooper said. “I’ve got lead inmy blood. It was not an ad­di­tive I needed.”

Donna Dil­worth, of Univer­sity Park, said she at­tended the meet­ing for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, from beau­ti­fi­ca­tion to trans­parency to fi­nance. The wa­ter is­sue was among her in­ter­ests, and she said she wor­ried what res­i­dents heard at the town hall was just more talk.

“We’ll see what hap­pens … but we’ve heard it be­fore,” Dil­worth said.

BILL JONES/DAILY SOUTHTOWN PHOTOS

Phyl­lis Saun­ders, of Univer­sity Park, holds a sign ad­dress­ing the wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion is­sues in her village.

Pat Cooper, a res­i­dent of Univer­sity Park’s Thorn­wood House Apart­ments, said she is still with­out tap wa­ter she con­sid­ers drink­able.

BILL JONES/DAILY SOUTHTOWN

Univer­sity Park Mayor Joseph Roudez opened his re­marks at a week­end town hall with com­ments di­rected to­ward his village’s con­tin­u­ing is­sues with lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter.

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