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In Reversal, Sauk Village Now Says Water Is Safe To Drink

Sauk Village

Sauk Village residents have to used bottled water due to vinyl chloride contamination. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 7/19/2012 at 9:40 p.m.

SAUK VILLAGE (CBS) – Sauk Village officials told residents at a Thursday night emergency meeting that the local water supply is now safe to drink –- a surprising reversal that left some consumers unconvinced.

Earlier this week, residents had been told that cancer-causing vinyl chloride made the water unsafe. Business owners were told to use alternative sources of water.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

“My dogs won’t even drink it,” said village resident  Richard Wilson, who chanted, “Don’t pay your water bill” with others as he left the 15-minute meeting, at which board members unanimously passed two ordinances: one to use temporary air stripping to cleanse the water and the other to purchase bottled water for distribution to village residents who choose not to drink tap water.

RELATED: Water Distribution Schedule For Residents

An Illinois EPA memorandum, which was unsigned but bore the name of interim EPA Director John J. Kim and Thursday’s date, said that the existing level of vinyl chloride in the public wells does not exceed the maximum allowed.  As a result, Kim states in the memo that well water can “be used for drinking, bathing, cooking or other normal uses,” and said Sauk Village businesses “may choose” to use well water.

“They come here tonight and say that the water is good, you can bathe, drink and do everything else in it, when they told us Tuesday we absolutely couldn’t do it,” resident Angela Randolph said.

Before the meeting, Mayor Lewis Towers met with reporters to say the water is safe. He said the village will still provide bottled water to those who want it — a seemingly contradictory concept.

He said the water appears brown at some distribution points because of infrastructure problems.

Resident Harold Randolph was not convinced the water is safe.

“We don’t drink it,” he said.

The board approved a measure to start the process of “air stripping” the wells to help with contaminant levels, but that process could take weeks to start.

Earlier Thursday, WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reported owners of bars and restaurants had been told to stop using the tap water.

The Illinois EPA declared this week that the village’s water was contaminated with vinyl chloride to the point of being non-potable. Village Trustee Enoch Benson said the village’s water problems date back 20 years.

Village Manager Henrietta Turner told business owners Thursday that they’ll have to find an alternative source of clean water and pay for it on their own.

“We need you all to make arrangements appropriately in reference to that,” she said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

When one business owner asked if they could use the town’s drinking water right now, Benson said “I would not use the water.”

Benson said residents would be getting bottled water for drinking, but insisted they can bathe in it safely, even though state officials have said showering or bathing with contaminated water can release vinyl chloride into the air, where it can be breathed in.

“They still can bathe in that water, I’ve bathed in it,” Benson said. “EPA can’t tell them not to bathe in it. … Let me tell you something, I’m going to bathe in it.”

Thomas Gorski, owner of Tom’s Village Tap, said, “They’re telling me I can’t make ice with the water, I can’t make pop with the water.”

Asked what he’s going to do without being able to use the tap water at his bar, Gorski said “Well, that’s a good question. Close the doors? What?”

Sam Abdo, owner of Hometown Gyros, said he’s already spent $200 on bottled water in three days, so he’s already operating on a pretty thin margin.

“It’s tight, it’s tight, it’s tight,” he said.

Veronica Lang, who runs a Popeye’s restaurant, said she’s not pleased with how village officials have been handling the water crisis.

“They don’t give you any answers,” she said.

Sauk Village voters have approved a plan to get Lake Michigan water through the city of Chicago, but making that switch could take years.