Crestwood residents angry about tainted water

April 20, 2009 3:31:35 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered a review of the Environmental Protection Agency's handling of a contaminated water well in south suburban Crestwood more than 20 years ago. The order follows a Chicago Tribune report that claims both village officials and the EPA knew that Crestwood residents were getting some of their tap water from the tainted well for more than two decades.

The EPA warned Crestwood officials about the well and told them it was contaminated with chemicals used in dry cleaning. Crestwood officials said they would only use the well as a backup water supply.

The Illinois EPA was saying a couple things Friday: First, that Crestwood's public drinking water supply is safe and that the public's health was never at risk. Secondly, the agency also says it has cited the village for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act and has cited it for lying to the EPA.

What Crestwood residents speaking to ABC7 Chicago said they wanted to know is why did the village keep using water from a troubled well? And if the EPA knew about it two years ago, why didn't they tell the public then?

When asked how angry they were, a group of Crestwood residents said they were very angry and that they felt betrayed.

The residents said they wanted answers. They had long presumed that the water they were drinking was clean and safe. The village had always told them so.

Now, the residents have learned that for over two decades, Crestwood was mixing lake Michigan water with water from an area well, even though the well water was contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

"We were never notified. I feel deceived here. We've been lied to," said Crestwood resident Mike Volpentesta.

"How could you be so simple-minded as to think that known carcinogens aren't going to do damage down the line," said resident Theresa Flynn.

Twenty-three years ago, the EPA found higher than acceptable levels of vinyl chloride in the well water in Crestwood, presumably caused by chemical leaching from a nearby dry cleaner.

The village was supposed to use to the well only as an emergency back-up, but documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act and developed by the Tribune show that Crestwood continued to comingle lake water with well water.

"I was very angry," said Tricia Krause of the Children's Cancer Cluster. "This should never have happened."

Krause, a former Crestwood resident, has spent over a decade investigating cancer cases and potential causes in the southwest suburbs. Years ago, she started asking about Crestwood water. Documents she obtained show that the Illinois EPA discovered two years ago that Crestwood was still using the well to provide about 20 percent of the village's water supply.

The EPA says it is anticipating legal action against the village.

"For Crestwood residents, it's important for them to understand that, while we believe what the village did was incredibly wrong, that the water during that time period was safe to drink," said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott.

Residents were not buying the notion that the water was safe Friday, and they were equally angry with the EPA for not revealing what the agency found two years ago.

"They should have, when they found out that water was contaminated, sent us all a post card," Crestwood resident John Toscas.

"All we can ask for is answers," resident Carolyn Kata told ABC7 Chicago.

The well was closed for good in late 2007. All of Crestwood's water now is drawn from Lake Michigan.

The village's long-time Mayor Chet Stranczek has retired. His son Robert is now the village president.

No one from the village had responded to ABC7 Chicago's questions Monday evening.

In its statement Monday, the Illinois EPA says it believes strongly in the public's right to know and is reviewing policy to see if its public notification process should be strengthened.


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