Updated 07/17/12 – 9:50 p.m.
SAUK VILLAGE, Ill. (CBS) — Everyone wants to stay hydrated with the temperature reaching close to 100 degrees Tuesday, but in Sauk Village, they’re stuck with bottled water.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports, the tap water in Sauk Village is contaminated. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency says unsafe levels of vinyl chloride in the drinking water dispensed by the village pose a threat to public health.
Vinyl chloride is known to cause liver damage. It’s a problem that’s been on the village’s radar for three years.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports the Illinois Attorney General’s office was also demanding answers on Tuesday. Sauk Village officials were summoned to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office Tuesday afternoon, and told to act quickly to clean up the village’s drinking water.
Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said, “It’s a bit of a longer term prospect, but for right now the goal is, the village needs to act and the village needs to act now to provide safe drinking water to its residents.”
Sauk Village resident Pamela Brodanex said she hasn’t drunk tap water from the village since moving here three years ago, due to bad taste and residue in the water.
Now, after learning the water could pose a health hazard, Brodanex has had enough.
“I’m very upset that I could pay a high bill every month, and we can’t use the water,” she said.
The announcement of the contaminated drinking water led to a heated meeting Tuesday night between village officials and local residents.
CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports tensions were so high at the meeting that police forcibly removed one resident who challenged Mayor Lewis Towers to drink tap water she used to fill a plastic bottle.
“They’re going to kick me out, the cops gonna forcibly take me out? Look at this red spot. Is that how I’m going to be treated?” Kerry Fitzsimmons said, pointing to a red mark on her arm after police removed her from the meeting.
She was one of hundreds of Sauk Village residents who jammed standing-room-only into the village hall Tuesday evening, seeking answers to the health crisis facing the village of 11,000 people. They want to know how the dangerous vinyl chloride got into the drinking water, and how long it’s been there.
“What has been said is that it’s very harmful to us, and we should not be drinking it, we should not be cooking with it. I’m concerned about even bathing in it,” Lavonne McKenzie said.
The Illinois EPA says it’s been working with Sauk Village for some time on the levels of vinyl chloride in the village drinking water supply. The state has given local officials five days to notify customers, who must use bottled water until further notice for drinking, or even brushing teeth.
“We know that this contamination could’ve occurred 20, 30 years ago, we don’t know,” said Maggie Carson of the Illinois EPA. “This is a former industrial area and when these contaminants get into the ground water, it can move with the groundwater.
But just recently, levels of vinyl chloride have reached 1.68 parts per billion in Sauk Village. The U.S. EPA says there is no safe level of the chemical.
“While these are very low numbers, vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen, so we have concerns even if there are these low levels,” explained Carson.
Asked who is to blame, Leonard Traskell said, “You could point fingers at everybody that’s here, but it happened way before. You know, it’s oncoming, they knew it, but they did nothing about it.”
Some longtime residents, who are members of PLAN (People Looking for Answers Now), said water safety in the village has taken a backseat to Mayor Towers’ desire to dump the wells and bring Lake Michigan water from Chicago to Sauk Village.
“We all want Chicago water, but I want a Cadillac in my garage, too. I can’t get one of them, and I can’t get Chicago water,” Judy Cast said.
Members of PLAN said air-stripping, a cheaper alternative that would eradicate vinyl chloride, is the only answer now. But they wonder if it’s now too late.
Cast said she fears Towers put residents’ health at risk, all because he wants to bring Chicago water to the village.
For now, Towers said the village is considering buying bottled water to distribute to its residents.
“That’s a possibility,” he said. “At this time, we haven’t confirmed anything yet, because we’re still working with the IEPA and the Attorney General on those things.”
Carson said a situation like this isn’t common — and that Sauk Village must notify residents, and neighbors in two trailer parks who also receive their drinking water from the village — about the contaminated drinking water.