SAUK VILLAGE | Sauk Village resident Mark Brown held up a glass jar full of thick, brownish liquid that looked like twice-cooked coffee.
But it wasn’t coffee. It was well water from his home.
“This is what my water looks like after it goes through my filter system,” Brown said. “This is what I am now going to pay triple bills for.”
The Sauk Village Board held an emergency meeting at Village Hall on Thursday night to provide an update on the issue of vinyl chloride contaminants showing up in the well water. On the agenda was a pair of motions, to read the updated IEPA letter to the residents and the press, and meet the requirements set forth by the IEPA two days earlier.
There was some confusion on whether the village well water was safe to drink.
According to the IEPA, when the vinyl chloride levels reach 2.0 parts per billion, the water is officially contaminated and not safe to drink. The highest level recorded is 1.68 parts per billion.
But when the level reached 1.0 parts per billion, the village was required to inform all residents of the findings. The confusion was that residents believed the 1.0 level was the maximum contaminant level.
Village President Lewis Towers invited the media on hand to his office prior to the meeting, and read the updated IEPA letter.
The IEPA letter stated Sauk Village water does not exceed the maximum contaminant level. He said it said residents can use the village water for drinking, bathing, and cooking
Towers read the village must make bottled water available to residents who want it, but the village does not have to shut down the two functioning wells.
He added that, according to the letter, village businesses may use village water for their business and the IEPA will continue to test village water on a weekly basis.
“We met again today with the IEPA to review the situation,” Towers said. “We have a draft of our mandated emergency plan in the hands of our attorney for review. As soon as it is reviewed, it will be sent to the attorney general and the IEPA for their approval.”
Part of that emergency plan must include distribution of bottled water to residents. Another part of the plan must be to implement the air stripping process to clean the water and significantly reduce the amount of vinyl chloride in the wells.
The first motion that was passed unanimously by the board was to accept the proposal from Baxter & Woodman Civil Engineers. The proposal is to install temporary air strippers on both wells that are currently supplying water to residents.
Trustee David Hanks added an amendment to the motion for the village to reach out to both the IEPA and the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association for financial assistance to help pay for the air stripping. The amendment became part of the motion.
Trustee Enoch Benson said that residents should not have to pay for the air stripping.
“Village residents did not create this issue, and should not have to pay for it,” Benson said.
The second motion passed was to implement a plan to distribute bottled water to residents who want it. Towers said that the bottled water would be provided free of charge – for now.
“We will provide bottled water free for now,” Towers said when asked if the residents would pay for it. “We are looking for ways to finance the water.”
The air stripping, estimated to cost $4.6 million, will take up to seven months to implement, according to Village Engineer Jim Czarnik.
Towers then read the IEPA letter to the jam-packed auditorium. When he read that the water is safe, the crowd booed.
“No one believes that the water is safe,” resident Jonathan Valiunas said. “I have a pool I can’t use, and water I can’t drink.”
Just 10 days ago, the Village Board raised the price of water from $3.90 per 1,000 gallons to $10.39. The increase was to help pay for Lake Michigan water that was mandated in the March 20 public referendum. But that plan will cost $19.7 million, and take three to five years to implement.
Jennifer Hamilton is a disabled veteran who lives in the village. She told The Times about ailments she believes are a direct result of the water.
“My skin is extremely irritated and inflamed,” Hamilton said. “I have recurring headaches. I believe both of these issues are a result of the contaminants in the water.”