CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Nicole Kelley, a mother of three, has lived her whole life in Sauk Village. She wanted to know when and how the water problem was getting fixed.
“I want to know my children’s water is going to be safe to drink,” she said.
Resident Josie Dykas wanted to know the direction of the village.
“Where do we go from here?” she asked. “How can we be sure these problems won’t reoccur?”
Approximately 350 village residents attended a public meeting hosted by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Under orders from Gov. Pat Quinn, the two state agencies conducted a public meeting at Bloom Trail High School on Wednesday night. The intent was to educate and inform residents about health issues, as well as steps being taken to remedy the situation.
Before becoming the director of the Department of Public Health, Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck was a practicing physician for more than 20 years. He addressed concerns regarding health issues related to vinyl chloride exposure.
“The federal maximum contaminant level is 2.0 parts per billion,” Hasbrouck said in response to an audience question. “That is the equivalent of one drop in a swimming pool that holds 50,000 gallons of water.
“A person needs to be exposed to very high levels of vinyl chloride, much higher than 2.0, for as long as 70 years before the risk of cancer increases,” he continued. “And then, the increased risk of cancer is 0.01 percent. That is a 1 in 10,000 chance.”
Hasbrouck wasn’t telling residents they should accept water with readings like the ones recorded in Sauk Village earlier this month.
“We (Department of Public Health) believe any vinyl chloride in the water is too much,” Hasbrouck said. “But I am trying to put into perspective that while there is an increased risk, that increase is much smaller than most people realize.”
Because vinyl chloride is a carcinogenic, the chemical has to be monitored, and exposure to it has to be made public.
“That’s a good thing,” Hasbrouck said. “But it can also cause people to become very nervous when they hear about it.”
John Kim, the interim director of the IEPA, talked about installing portable air strippers.
“Gov. Quinn and the state agencies wanted to expedite a solution to the issue of contaminated water in Sauk Village,” Kim said. “That is why we initiated the installation of portable air strippers at the Sauk Village water treatment plant.”
In response to a question, Kim explained that portable and temporary air strippers are one in the same as far as functionality.
“Portable just means that they are easily moved from one location to another, that they are not anchored down,” he said.
The IEPA will complete installation of two portable air strippers on the two functioning wells next week, probably Wednesday. The air strippers can treat 500 gallons per minute each.
Once they are in place, Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers will begin installing temporary air strippers to replace the state ones, Kim said. That process is expected to take four to six weeks.
“The IEPA is actually renting the portable air strippers,” Kim said. “We want to have them replaced by the village as quickly as possible.”
After Baxter & Woodman replaces the portable air strippers with temporary ones, the village has to make a decision, Kim said.
“Part of our agreement with the village is that they have to install permanent treatment on the wells,” Kim said. “That process will have to start right after the temporary air strippers are installed and operational.”
Permanent treatment can be permanent air strippers, or another type of permanent well treatment. The permanent treatment did not include the $19.7 million option of Lake Michigan water.
Marcia Wilhite, IEPA Bureau of Water chief, explained her department reviewed the Sauk Village loan application for Lake Michigan water funds.
“We felt that the cost estimate of $19.7 million was valid,” Wilhite said. “But we also felt that the residents of Sauk Village would have an issue affording that cost.”
The loan application was denied in May, and the IEPA suggested the village look at permanent air stripping as an option.
Village President Lewis Towers was in attendance at the meeting.
“I hope all of the residents get all of their questions answered here tonight,” Towers said. “Our village administration continues to work with the state on resolving this water issue for our residents.”
One resident asked Kim and Hasbrouck what they would do if they lived in Sauk Village.
“I would drink the bottled water being distributed,” Kim said.
“And I would stay informed on the progress the village makes regarding remediation,” Hasbrouck added.