University Park residents express anger, fear over lead-contaminated water

UNIVERSITY PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- Hundreds of residents of south suburban University Park turned out Saturday to express their frustration about lead-contaminated water being supplied to their homes.

The community meeting comes one day after Aqua Illinois president Craig Blanchette admitted to ABC7 Eyewitness News that the elevated lead levels had first been detected in August 2018, nearly a year before residents were notified and told not to drink the water.

"I didn't believe you from the very beginning," one angry resident said at the meeting, which started at 10 a.m. at 90 Towncenter Drive.

"We trusted Aqua (Illinois). Now there's not too much trust there," another resident said.

About 1,500 customers remained under the "do not consume" order in University Park, one week after the order was first put into place.

In an exclusive interview with ABC7 Eyewitness News on Friday, Blanchette took ownership of the issue and recognized that the company would have to work to rebuild customers' trust.

"They should be able to turn it on, drink it, with a high level of confidence. And that's a confidence we are going to have to rebuild with this community," he said. "We want them to have the highest quality of water, the water that we promised them. They expect and deserve better than this."

Blanchette said the higher levels were found after switching from well water to water from the Kankakee River and to a different chemical treatment to remove rust in pipes.

"In this case, it did more than remove the rust. In fact it removed the protective coating, at least to our best available information today," he said.

Blanchette said the company tried to fix the issue in 2018 by changing the dose of chemical treatment.

"It didn't work. It didn't work. And we ended up where we are today," he said.
Blanchette said Aqua Illinois -- in compliance with regulations -- did not have to retest the water for lead sooner than this May, nine months after higher levels of lead were first found. He also said that the lead levels detected in August 2018 were within Illinois Environmental Protection Agency standards.

"You don't even do a 30, 60, 90-day testing process of samples that have already tested for lead to make sure that the system is doing what you say that it will do," said Pastor Brenda Mitchell, a former University Park trustee.

The utility company says it's now using a new water treatment phosphate to recoat affected homes' pipes, keeping lead from seeping into the water.

Residents at the meeting questioned whether the fix would be permanent.

"Some of the answers were conflicting and residents are still concerned about what's going on," said Joseph Roudez, mayor of University Park.
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