SAUK VILLAGE | Emotions ran the gamut for residents lined up Sunday morning for water distribution in Sauk Village.
Sandra Smiley had many unanswered questions.
“How long will the village continue to give away water?” she asked. “How long has this (contamination) been going on?”
“Frustrated” was the word Smiley used to best describe her emotions.
“What will happen to our residents and our children in five years? Ten years?” she asked. “Who will protect us then?”
Village officials began distributing bottled water to residents Friday, after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency ordered them to do so earlier in the week. Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office went to court Friday to file a motion that ordered the village to distribute water until further notice.
Village Manager Henrietta Turner, in charge of the distribution, was angry and believed Madigan’s actions were unfair.
“It was uncalled for,” Turner said Sunday as she supervised the distribution at the Ed Paesel Community Center, 21701 Torrence Ave. “We were already distributing water. What was the purpose of ordering us to do what we were already doing?”
The village spent $37,000 Thursday to buy 10 trailers of bottled water. Turner said the village distributed one full trailer on Friday and Saturday to about 1,500 residents. The village has a population of 11,000.
In addition, Turner said Ultra Foods donated 500 cases of bottled water, and Food-4-Less donated 50 cases.
“We are working on getting additional donations,” Turner said. “We are not sure how long the water we purchased will last.”
“Disappointed” was the word used by Bernadine Hopkins, a three-year resident.
“I am disappointed in the IEPA,” Hopkins said. “Tuesday they said the water was contaminated, then on Thursday they said it was OK to drink. How can we believe what they say?”
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency announced one week ago vinyl chloride in the local well water had reached levels that required officials to take action and alert residents.
At a meeting Thursday morning with village officials, local business owners were told they might not want to use the water even to wash dishes. But later that day residents were told the state was not restricting water use, which some thought meant it was safe to drink.
The U.S. EPA sets a specific level — 2 parts per billion— that once triggered requires officials to take action to reduce the contamination. The Illinois EPA has another, lower level —1 part per billion — that requires officials to notify the public and take action to reduce the contamination. Recent testing on Sauk Village's operational wells found levels at 1.68 parts per billion, prompting the public notice.
In 2010, the Illinois attorney general's office sued the village in an attempt to get officials to clean the water because of high levels of vinyl chloride discovered the previous year in one of three town wells. That well was shut down.
The Village Board voted Thursday night to install temporary air strippers to help clean up the water at its source. The engineering firm of Baxter & Woodman Civil Engineers will install the air strippers at a cost of $515,000. The process will take four to six weeks.
The air strippers, which reduce the level of vinyl chloride through aeration by as much as 95 percent, will be in a 12-foot tower near the wells on Sauk Trail.
Village President Lewis Towers said the village is seeking reimbursement from the state or the federal government for the bottled water and the air strippers.
“We are looking into financial help for the water and the (air) strippers,” Towers said Sunday at the community center. “We do not have the funds for this, although we are doing everything we need to do.”
Meanwhile, the Emergency Services Department of Homeland Security was on hand Sunday.
“Homeland Security is trying to help us make sure we are meeting all of the requirements set forth by the IEPA,” Fire Chief Al Stoffregen said. “They are also helping us to make sure residents have the right information regarding the situation.”