The ABC 7 I-Team investigated one of the hardest-hit communities where 7,000 residents have to drink bottled water.
Imagine if you weren’t able to use your faucet to drink water, brush your teeth, cook or wash dishes. That’s what the residents of University Park have endured, not for weeks, but for years. Now, they have new concerns.
University Park resident Tony Townes won’t drink water from his tap, even with a filter. He fears his water is not safe to drink due to lead contamination.
“Our water is not fine until the EPA says our water is fine. It’s been going on for two years now,” he said.
That’s right. It’s been nearly two years since lead was first detected in water flowing into the homes in University Park.
“My concerns are showing this community that you care about what you’re giving them and what you’re putting into their household into their bodies. It’s about making things right,” resident Eboni Rucker said.
The south suburban village receives its water from Aqua Illinois. In 2017, the private company switched University Park from well water to the Kankakee River and added a chemical to improve the taste and color, inadvertently causing water pipes to leach dangerous lead that was first found by the EPA in 2019.
“If they only would have had genuine concern and care to take the time and properly test the strength of the chemical, all of this could have been avoided,” said University Park Mayor Joseph E. Roudez III.
In a statement, Aqua said before adding that chemical to the water, they “did more testing than was required by state and federal law” and “shared a national expert’s detailed study with regulators before the transition.”
Will County and Illinois’ attorney general sued Aqua.
“We want to give a particular focus on environmental justice and so areas where they’re disadvantaged historically environmental issues get less attention,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said.
As a result of the lawsuit, Aqua must complete two six-month testing cycles of the water and supply filters to homeowners. Aqua must also provide bottled water. The company said they will still deliver to residents who are “homebound or physically unable to pick up.”
“Clean, healthy, drinking water: everyone should have that justice,” Roudez said.
Most residents pick up their weekly supplies at Aqua headquarters.
“I pick up for my elderly neighbors,” Townes said.
But University Park Resident Pamela Johnson came herself to get her water.
“It’s really hard, especially for elderly,” she said.
Aqua Illinois declined an interview, but in written statements said that from the beginning they’ve “taken unprecedented and immediate action to put our customers’ well-being…