1,500 south suburban homes still without water after spike in lead levels

UNIVERSITY PARK, Ill. — Around 1,500 homes in the south suburbs are without clean water for a seventh straight day as authorities search for the cause of a spike in lead levels in the area.

Water company Aqua Illinois issued a "do not consume" water advisory for homes in University Park, Green Garden and Monee Township Friday after tests found elevated lead levels in the area. The company told customers to not drink, cook with or even use the water to brush their teeth.

“We’re very concerned about that because we don’t know how high the level is,” Monee resident Delores Buckely said.

As it addresses the issue, Aqua set up a makeshift information center and water station at the University Park Community Center, including a tanker filled with clean water and more than 10,000 cases of water. A steady stream of people visited to get clean water and search for answers Thursday.

“I said, well, I’m not going to take no more chances or whatever that is, come out here and get some water,” Monee resident Azalea Mcgee said.

Many are also filled with fear and frustration, and thirsting for answers. Some hoped to speak with representatives from the Aqua water company during a Q&A session. That didn’t happen.

University Park Mayor Joseph Roudez lives in the do not consume area and is furious, insisting the company show up and answer questions.

“For them to ditch this, it’s unacceptable to me,” Roudez said,  “One thing we’re not going to have is Flint Part Two, not here in this town."

In a statement, Aqua says it is investigating the cause and trying to get people back online as soon as possible. One theory is a change in water treatments may have caused more lead to leak from older pipes.

“We believe the source of the lead is tied to an adjustment in the treatment which appears to have changed the water chemistry so that existing lead in internal plumbing of older properties was released into the water,” the company said.

In the meantime, residents say the week-long problem has impacted everything from the shower to the kitchen sink.

“We don’t know if it’s even safe to shower,” Buckely said. “You can’t wash your dishes unless you have the bottled water, so it’s very inconvenient.”

Lead can cause serious health problems, and residents say they’re worried they’ve been drinking contaminated water.

“I also question that the water has been messed up for only a week because my water has been discolored for over a year, and it also has a funny taste to it," said University Park resident Lewis Ledet.

At a town hall meeting Saturday at 10 a.m., University Park Mayor Roudez says a the Board of Trustees will listen to the concerns of the residents, call for the company to answer questions and vote to declare an emergency. The village also plans to conduct independent testing on its water.

Residents affected by the "do not consume" advisory can visit the University Park Community Center, 90 Towncenter Dr., from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for free clean water and to request lead testing and filters.

Additional information is available at WaterFactsIL.com or call 877-987-2782 for more information.

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