University Park Water Supplier Sued for Creating Situation that Caused Lead to Contaminate Drinking Water After Source Switched to the Kankakee River


A school is now affected, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has filed suit against water supplier Aqua Illinois. CBS 2’s Tara Molina reports.

The State of Illinois has filed a lawsuit alleging that Aqua Illinois — the company that provides water to south suburban University Park caused lead to contaminate the suburb’s drinking water.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Will County State’s Attorney James W. Glasgow sued Aqua Illinois Friday August 16, 2019. Aqua Illinois is the supplier of water to residents of University Park, population 7,125. University Park is located in Cook and Will Counties about 40 miles south of Chicago.

Aqua Illinois switched the source of University Park water supply from groundwater wells to the Kankakee River in 2017. Following the switch, University Park residents complained about the taste of the water. In response to residents’ complaints about the water’s taste, Aqua began adding a blended phosphate mix to the public water system. Raoul’s and Glasgow’s complaint alleges the change of the water chemistry combined with the phosphate blend caused a chemical reaction that removed a protective layer in residential plumbing. As a result, lead leached out of plumbing materials and into the water flowing into some homes and businesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, which can lead to irreversible brain damage and lifelong intellectual, emotional and behavioral consequences.

Also because of the switch of water supply from the Kankakee River, Aqua is required to conduct testing every six months. In May 2019, Aqua reported elevated lead levels to the IEPA and later issued a notice to residents warning them not to drink the water. Additional testing in July continued to show elevated lead levels. In the most recent sampling done in August, there were 27 out of 60 samples collected from customers that contained lead levels above the regulatory action level. The company is currently providing bottled water, pitchers with filters, and faucet filters to the impacted residents.

Raoul and Glasgow also allege Aqua proceeded with construction and operations without having secured the required permits from the IEPA. Aqua began providing Kankakee River water to University Park’s approximately 7,000 residents before it had secured an operating permit to do so. The complaint also alleges that Aqua introduced a blended phosphate into the public water system before it had received the requisite permit from the IEPA.

In the lawsuit, Raoul and Glasgow are seeking a preliminary injunction that requires Aqua to act immediately to correct the situation. The lawsuit also seeks to ensure Aqua provides residents with permanent, safe drinking water, as well as civil penalties, the maximums of which are defined in state statute.

Since receipt of the May 2019 drinking water sample results, Aqua has been cooperating and working closely with the regulatory agencies to address the problem. In particular, Aqua is communicating with the public through various media in order to provide information on alternative water supplies and safe use of the tap water, providing bottled water and/or filters, and working diligently to identify and fix the problem. Aqua has also held public meetings and is in regular communication with the regulators. Aqua is expected to continue to put all resources necessary on this issue until all the people of University Park again have safe drinking water.

Aqua Illinois was awarded “Best Tasting Water in the South Suburbs” in mid-February 2017, and the year before in 2016. Aqua Illinois is a subsidiary of Aqua America, which is a water and wastewater utility company that serves about 3 million people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana and Virginia.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Aqua Illinois has a BBB Rating of D- and customer reviews average 1 out of 5 stars (out of 20 reviews).



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