Suburb’s water problems still not fixed

WGN Investigates

UNIVERSITY PARK, Ill. — It’s been more than a year since University Park residents were warned not to drink the water from their faucets because of unsafe levels of lead.

Aqua Illinois, the suburb’s water supplier, said those levels are now declining.

But WGN Investigates found the problem still isn’t fixed, to the frustration of many in town.  

“We’re still seeing high readings and I’m very dissatisfied with the process,” University Park Mayor Joseph Roudez said.

Testing data, obtained by WGN investigates, showed elevated lead levels in 27% of the 66 homes sampled in late July.

An Aqua spokeswoman said a more recent round of testing showed improvement, with elevated levels in just 11% of the homes. But there were fewer samples in that round, potentially affecting the outcome. 

“You really don’t know if you’re safe or not,” William Freeman, a University Park resident, said.

Aqua has said the problem began after the suburb’s water source was switched to the Kankakee River.

Aqua added a new treatment chemical to the system to help improve the taste. 

But the chemical ended up stripping a protective layer in the plumbing of older homes, causing lead from the pipes to leach into the water.

Aqua has been trying to restore that layer but “the problems just persist,” Attorney Tom Zimmerman, who represents more than 100 residents in a class-action lawsuit against the company, said.

“I believe if this problem happened in a more affluent community, it would be over by now,” he adds. “There would be such an uproar and there would be such scrutiny on it that Aqua would be forced to spend whatever money it took to fix that problem.”

Aqua has been urging residents to run the water, to help restore the protective coating inside the pipes.

But in a recent court filing, the company acknowledged it “cannot guarantee that any treatment will alleviate levels at certain properties.”

Aqua declined WGN’s interview request. Instead, a company spokeswoman provided a statement that read, in part the following:

“The health and safety of our customers are at the heart of everything we do and restoring the best quality of water for impacted University Park residents remains a top priority at the highest levels of Aqua. As we move forward, we remain committed to working closely with nationally renowned water chemistry experts, under regulatory guidance, while continuing to provide information and resources to be a good partner to the community.”

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