High iron levels make yellow, orange, foul-tasting water for residents for north suburban residents

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone and Maggie Green WLS logo
Tuesday, May 7, 2024
Aqua customers in north suburbs struggle with foul-tasting rusty water
Residents of Eastwood Manor community in unincorporated McHenry County have been dealing with high iron levels in their water. Aqua is planning a fix.

EASTWOOD MANOR, Ill. (WLS) -- Would you drink the water coming out of your faucets if it was yellow or a rusty color orange? That is what residents in one north suburban community have been dealing with for years.

Residents say despite their efforts to treat the water, it tastes bad, smells bad and looks bad. It is yellow, rusty and discolored, and it's water they're paying for.

From the tubs to the sinks, Michael Clark and several other north suburban residents in the Eastwood Manor community said they're disgusted with their water.

"It tastes horrible," said resident Stephanie Tesmer. "I'm very, very upset."

"There are potent smells that come out and clearly that's yellow. This is a glass of yellow water. Fill the tub up a quarter way, halfway, and the water is yellow," said resident Kyle Waggoner.

"The flavor of the water, even when I brush my teeth, is noticeable and then bathing it, if it's orange that day we most likely will skip showers and baths," Tesmer added.

"It stains the toilets," said Michael Clark. "It stains the shower, it'll stain clothes."

Residents said they've spent hundreds to thousands of dollars on bottled drinking water and home filtration systems to protect appliances.

"The filter starts out white, as new, but this is only two months," said homeowner Mark Slovacek. "You can see all the all this orange slime. If we didn't have this filter this would be coming through our faucets."

The water has high levels of iron. The I-Team found that since 2014 Illinois EPA records show more than three dozen resident samples tested over 1 milligram per liter of iron, which is considered "unsatisfactory" by state health officials.

The private company Aqua provides water for the community. Aqua's latest test in 2022 shows a higher iron level in the community well of 2.3 milligrams per liter.

Despite the high levels, Aqua's response to treat for iron is in compliance with all IEPA regulations, because the latest census shows the community falls under the population 1,000 people.

The Illinois Department of Health said iron is considered a "secondary or aesthetic contaminant" and overall not hazardous to health. In fact, some levels of iron are needed.

Dr. Tasha Stoiber at the Environmental Working Group said high levels of iron can make soap much less effective and it leave a residue on your skin that can be irritating. And, for some, high levels of iron in water can have more harmful effects.

"So if you have a pre-existing condition, something like hemachromatosis, where it prevents your body from absorbing iron normally, that can be an issue," she said.

Aqua partially blames high levels of iron on the ground water source and said it has implemented water treatments that have resulted in lower iron levels. Aqua said when they took over the system in 2016, the iron levels were nearly 10 times more than what they are today. The company says when it "exhausted efforts" on water treatments, it began to look for "a permanent iron filtration treatment."

Aqua said that timeline of completion was scheduled for some time in 2025, but since our inquiries, the company expedited its timeline, telling the I-Team that it is "committing" to completing the iron filtration by early 2025.

That's good news for residents like Clark.

"To put it on the residents to filter their own water doesn't seem to be very fair," he said.

Aqua said this new timeline of completion will be a "permanent solution," and will provide the community with reliable, high-quality water for years to come.

The I-Team will stay on this story and let you know when the residents start seeing results and better water.