Agents raid suburb in tainted water case

April 29, 2009 3:26:12 PM PDT
Federal agents raided the village offices in southwest suburban Crestwood Wednesday as they investigate allegations that local officials knowingly drew tap water from a contaminated well for two decades. Agents with the Environmental Protection Agency spent the day sifting through records. The EPA says agents are looking for evidence of environmental crimes.

This investigation finds itself on a fast track. Many residents are outraged. They're demanding answers, so too are political leaders, and Wednesday blue-jacketed federal agents began their paper search for answers.

"This is not a civil action. This is a criminal search warrant, a criminal search warrant signed by a federal magistrate," said Randall Ashe, EPA Criminal Division.

Roughly a dozen agents with the US EPA's criminal division paid a visit to Crestwood's Public works department as well as the village hall. While they will not say specifically what's in their search warrant, they are looking for all records dealing with water usage from this village well.

Over two decades ago, the Illinois EPA found contaminants in the well, and despite a pledge that it would use the well water only in emergencies, Crestwood knowingly comingled well water with Lake Michigan water for over 20 years.

"We'll do whatever we can to investigate this and we're gonna do we whatever we can to identify whatever crimes may have taken place. That's what we're here for. We're not saying that there has been crimes have that taken place," said Ashe.

"There is no issue whatsoever with the water supply now, and the village doesn't feel there was one prior to this either," said Robert Stranczek, Crestwood mayor.

Crestwood's mayor offered up only a brief statement Wednesday as federal agents went about their document search inside the village hall. He would not take any questions.

"We are fully cooperating with the EPA. At this time, that's all the comment we're gonna have," Ashe said.

Stranczek was bombarded Saturday with questions from residents outraged after having been told for years that their drinking water was exclusively Lake Michigan water when records show it included some well water -- which had been polluted with some toxic chemicals linked to cancer.

Wednesday, former Crestwood resident Tricia Krause, who has been instrumental in unearthing Crestwood's use of tainted water, tied a ribbon around a tree in front of village hall, meant to signify, she says, a new chapter in finding the truth.

"I will demand to insure everyone that there's going to be a thorough, lengthy, honest investigation full of integrity," said Krause.

That same pledge Wednesday came from the governor in examining the state EPA's role in the Crestwood water issue. The governor said he believes the state EPA did its job with regard to testing and monitoring of the Crestwood well, but says that there should be changes in the relatively new law that provides for notifying the public when the EPA finds problems with wells.

Right now the law requires that public officials be notified. Quinn and others want to change that so that residents -- the larger public -- gets ample notification.


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