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Could the lead poisoning in University Park be just the beginning?

Monday, Aug 19, 2019

* AP

Illinois alleges that a company that provides water to a Chicago suburb made changes without permission from state regulators that caused lead to contaminate the village’s drinking water.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a lawsuit Friday against Aqua Illinois, the company that supplies water to residents of University Park, a village about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Chicago. […]

More than 85% of the village’s nearly 7,000 residents are black, and Raoul noted serious damage has occurred in other predominantly minority communities where contaminated water wasn’t immediately addressed. In the majority-black city of Flint, Michigan, for example, the toxic metal leached into the supply in 2014 and 2015 due to a lack of corrosion-control treatment following a switch in the water source while the city was under state emergency management.

* Background from a Raoul press release…

In 2017, Aqua switched the source of the village’s water from groundwater wells to the Kankakee River. Because of the switch, Aqua is required to conduct testing every six months. In May, Aqua reported elevated lead levels to the IEPA and later issued a notice to residents warning them not to drink the water. Additional testing in July continued to show elevated lead levels. In the most recent sampling done in August, 27 out of 60 samples collected from customers contained lead levels above the regulatory action level. The company is currently providing bottled water, pitchers with filters, and faucet filters to the impacted residents.

In response to residents’ complaints about the water’s taste following the switch to water from the Kankakee River, Aqua began adding a blended phosphate mix to the public water system. Raoul’s and Glasgow’s complaint alleges the change of the water chemistry combined with the phosphate blend caused a chemical reaction that removed a protective layer in residential plumbing. As a result, lead leached out of plumbing materials and into the water flowing into some homes and businesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, which can lead to irreversible brain damage and lifelong intellectual, emotional and behavioral consequences.

Raoul and Glasgow also allege Aqua proceeded with construction and operations without having secured the required permits from the IEPA. Aqua began providing Kankakee River water to University Park’s approximately 7,000 residents before it had secured an operating permit to do so. The complaint also alleges that Aqua introduced a blended phosphate into the public water system before it had received the requisite permit from the IEPA.

In the lawsuit, Raoul and Glasgow are seeking a preliminary injunction that requires Aqua to act immediately to correct the situation. The lawsuit also seeks to ensure Aqua provides residents with permanent, safe drinking water, as well as civil penalties, the maximums of which are defined in state statute.

* CBS 2

You may take safe, usable water for granted until you’re forced to live without it for three months like Pamelia Roby’s family.

“Someone needs to do something about it. It should have been done a long time ago, but they really need to do something about it,” Roby said. “It’s absurd. They wouldn’t live in this mess.”

Roby’s family’s home is one of hundreds in University Park relying on bottled water for their own safety. They have to use the bottled water to drink, cook, clean and brush their teeth, because the tap water is contaminated with lead.

“I’m worried about my health; the health of my child,” Roby said. “It’s disgusting.”

* Daily Southtown

About 1,500 Aqua customers in University Park remain unable to consume water normally following the company’s detection of elevated lead levels on June 14 and Blanchette has said it could be several months before those residents are able to drink tap water without restrictions.

The company has told affected customers they can safely drink tap water if they run their faucet two to three minutes before each use and use a pitcher or faucet filter certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to reduce lead.

Mayor Joseph Roudez, whose own home remains among those affected by the lead problem, has said it’s been “hectic” adjusting to life with tap water restrictions and admitted in early August that he still did not feel safe drinking from his tap despite Aqua’s assurances.

* Citizens Utility Board

Water. We need it to live. Should we all own this valuable resource, or should private companies own our water? That question will be asked all over this state in the wake of two private companies passing one of the nation’s most substantial water-privatization laws here in Illinois.

Aqua Illinois and Illinois American Water (IAW) succeeded in lobbying state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 3051 in the fall of 2018. Aqua and IAW can now crisscross our state offering cash-strapped municipalities top dollar for their systems, all the while the ratepayers of Aqua and IAW will pay for their expansion.

Since the companies’ legislation took effect on June 1 of this year, the two companies have already filed for four acquisitions with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Those four acquisitions are scheduled to cost the ratepayers of the two companies $11.35 million, and the companies are likely just getting started. As I write this, their agents are knocking on the doors of Illinois municipalities, dazzling them with big money for water systems that are fully depreciated and in need of investment. […]

There is a bill in Springfield that would allow you a vote before your community could privatize its water and/or sewer system. House Bill 2392, sponsored by Rep. John Connor, would allow a referendum so the current owners of a municipal water system, the people that live in the community, would have a voice in the future of an asset critical to their lives.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments
  1. - OneMan - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:38 am:

    The company has told affected customers they can safely drink tap water if they run their faucet two to three minutes before each use and use a pitcher or faucet filter certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to reduce lead.

    I am sure the company is still charging for the water that has to go right down the drain before it can be rendered ’safe’.


  2. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:40 am:

    This is wrong and inexcusable. Something should be done nationwide and statewide to insure safe drinking water. And those who screw up need more than a fine they need jail


  3. - Jibba - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:40 am:

    How blind must they have been to not see it coming, when Flint was in the news daily during this time period?

    Accountants and business majors need to stay out of decision making when it comes to safety.


  4. - anon2 - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    Privatization of water systems clearly comes with risks that its advocates don’t like to admit.


  5. - Bothanspy - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:59 am:

    Can you absorb lead through skin contact? Is it safe to shower in lead-laden water?


  6. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    Flint had a public water supply, not private. It used to be that private water supply companies were regulated as public utilities. That puts limits on the rapacious capitalists

    Changing operations BEFORE getting the permits is stupid per se. I don’t see much defense there.


  7. - Froganon - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:15 pm:

    Raise rates, reduce safety/service levels, maximize profits - let the magic of free market capitalism reign. It’s time to revisit this legislation and add a strong does of minimum standards, regulation/rate control and community oversight.


  8. - Casual Reminder - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    Casual reminder that virtually all privatization of common good resources is bad. Water, park land, public schools, police, fire, parking meters, roads, etc.

    Profit motives will always trump the general well being of the public.


  9. - A Jack - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:29 pm:

    Another “win” by the former Governor.


  10. - Southside Slim - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:38 pm:

    Let’s deal with facts first. 1 Aqua is not charging impacted customers for the water during this crisis. 2 Lead cannot be absorbed thru the skin. 3 There is virtually no comparison to what happened in Flint and that’s happening in University Park as UP involves no coverup or longtime exposure. 4 The water source (Kankakee River) is not contaminated; the lead is entering the system once the water enters impacted homes because those homes have lead solder in their plumbing. That said, no one should minimize the risk to health, or the need for a quick thorough remedy, or appropriate consequences for mistakes made. But let’s start with basic facts.


  11. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    This isn’t the beginning, it’s the middle.

    Half of the schools in plainfield failed lead testing, and the district did everything possible to keep that information out of public view. I even have the FIOA request myself where the district ‘forgot’ to include the lead testing results failing from a year earlier that they failed to notify anyone of.

    Their solution? put filters on the fixtures that failed. No additional testing has been released by the district if any new fixtures have failed.

    And yes, this is in the same county of Glasgow and he didn’t even lift a finger about the failure to notify the public, much less file a lawsuit against district administration for knowingly keeping this info from the public which was a far more egregious failure of the district that was done with full knowledge.

    Hopefully this is the beginning of those who have ignored this starting to be held accountable.

    Pull info from plainfield district 202 on this topic. Your jaw will drop to the floor at the district response of ignoring lead poisoning in buildings full of children for most of the year.

    The only moved to inform the public after someone contacted the IL Dept of public health and pointed out the district hadn’t even supplied the test results to the dept of public health.


  12. - Rich Miller - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    ===That said, no one should minimize the risk to health===

    Except for the fact that you just did.


  13. - Jibba - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    Southside Slim previews Aqua’s legal defense. Gearing up already, eh?

    The mistake made appears to be identical to Flint’s mistake at a time when it was heavily covered in the news. Inexcusable. Proper water treatment was only begun in response to complaints about taste from residents, not from company diligence. Inexcusable. And the source of the lead is immaterial when the lack of proper treatment of the water exposed the lead to dissolution and transport, especially when it is a well-known issue in water delivery systems. Inexcusable. I await the word on who prevented the inclusion of proper protective additives in the first place, and why.


  14. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:53 pm:

    “2 Lead cannot be absorbed thru the skin.” That’s generally but not always true. There’s a reason there is so much concern about kids exposure to lead and it’s not just because they eat lead paint. We don’t want kids exposed to lead.

    https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/lead-poisoning.html

    And why the heck would you be minimizing what’s happening here? This is outrageous. The water system was working until the privatization occurred and then they messed with the system and now residents have lead in their water. It’s not acceptable in any stretch of the imagination and the GA should repeal this or fix it, ASAP.


  15. - Rich Miller - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    ===it’s not just because they eat lead paint===

    They don’t eat paint directly. The dust gets on their skin, particularly their hands. They ingest it that way.


  16. - Langhorne - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 1:20 pm:

    Note to J.B.: don’t let this be your vets home legionnaires


  17. - dynastyages - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 1:29 pm:

    WGN reported last month that signs of problem first surfaced last August!!! https://wgntv.com/2019/07/29/signs-of-suburban-lead-problem-first-surfaced-in-2018-records-show/


  18. - Moe Berg - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    When it finally dawns on policymakers and elected officials that monetary stimulus via further fed rate cuts isn’t going to do anything positive for the economy, perhaps we, as a country, will turn to fiscal stimulus - actually investing in ourselves via a badly needed national infrastructure program that would included addressing the lead pipe crisis.


  19. - FormerParatrooper - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 4:07 pm:

    Legionnaires disease and lead contamination in water, all from a lack of oversight. I detest Rauner as much as anyone, yet can’t lay the blame on him. This is a long term neglect issue. JB can either take up the issue and get it fixed, something the last Gov couldn’t do. Or he can blame others and slow walk this. I believe it won’t be slow walked.


  20. - Macombie - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 6:32 pm:

    Is the GSU campus served by this water company? That would be reason enough for some students to look elsewhere.


  21. - CubsFan16 - Monday, Aug 19, 19 @ 11:41 pm:

    Maybe it’s just me, but going with the cheaper water supply option or leaving our water in the hands of private corporations doesn’t seem morally correct to me. I’m all for making this utility entirely public with strict oversight.


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