What caused elevated lead levels?
In 2016, customers expressed concerns about water hardness and discoloration caused by iron in the water. Aqua Illinois began plans to address these concerns by transitioning University Park from well water to softened and filtered water from the Kankakee River.
To date, we have identified that the likely cause of elevated lead levels in a limited number of homes is due to water chemistry interacting with lead solder in the internal plumbing of homes built prior to 1990. Homes built after 1990 are not expected to have lead solder.
Our testing results and investigation to date indicate that Aqua Illinois’ infrastructure in University Park and its source water do not contain lead.
Were customers notified quickly enough?
Aqua Illinois took unprecedented steps to protect the health and safety of our customers and keep them informed. Aqua Illinois notified customers whose samples showed elevated lead levels the same day test results were returned, on Thursday, June 13. The following day, Friday, June 14, Aqua Illinois sent a message to ALL customers in the service area, providing information on precautions and notifying them they should not consume the water without filtration.
How were customers notified?
Aqua Illinois personally notified customers whose samples showed elevated lead levels by calling those customers directly and mailing letters with results starting on June 13 for the results received then and daily as other results were received. On Friday, June 14, 2019, Aqua Illinois widely notified the media and sent a message to all customers through our WaterSmart Alert program, which includes voicemails, emails and text messages. In addition, this information was posted on the Aqua Illinois web page and social media. Aqua Illinois continues to update the community as new information becomes available.
Customers can visit WaterFactsIL.com or call 877.987.2782 for more information. To receive WaterSmart Alerts, you can sign up at AquaAmerica.com.
How is Aqua Illinois making progress, and when will this be resolved?
On June 15, 2019 Aqua Illinois changed the water treatment process in University Park and began using a new, common treatment, which is a 90/10 (90 percent orthophosphate/10 percent polyphosphate) blended phosphate, or predominantly orthophosphate. It is known to be effective at forming a protective scale on pipes constructed with lead solder and to reduce the amount of lead entering into the water. This particular treatment was used successfully in Galesburg, Illinois recently when they had problems with lead corrosion.
While we would like to provide an exact timeline, it is more important that we provide accurate information. Originally, we reported it could take a few weeks or longer to fully resolve this issue. Based on our current knowledge of the treatment process and sampling results, we are estimating full resolution could take at least several months. We will continue working day in and day out to restore high-quality drinking water for all customers in University Park and remain committed to working with the community to provide resources until this is resolved.
We continue testing and working with national experts and regulators to ensure our treatment approach is effectively addressing the issue and that we are on the optimal treatment path. Biweekly testing results and additional information can be found on WaterFactsIL.com. We are also looking at how to effectively present some of the expert work that is being done.
Is everyone in the area impacted by high lead levels?
Aqua Illinois has confirmed that not all properties in University Park are impacted. Aqua Illinois initially issued a do-not-consume advisory to all customers in University Park, Green Garden and Monee Township as a voluntary, precautionary measure. Since then, Aqua Illinois has lifted several areas and individual properties from the advisory based on property age and water testing analysis. In collaboration with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), Aqua Illinois continues working with hundreds of individual property owners with homes built after 1990, as they are not expected to have lead solder, but in the areas generally affected to conduct testing and lift them from the advisory. Aqua Illinois is providing updates to customers as they become available.
Is Aqua Illinois working with state and federal regulators?
Aqua Illinois has been in constant communication with both state and federal agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the IEPA and the Illinois Commerce Commission have laws and regulations in place to ensure that water utility companies protect the public against lead in drinking water. Since receiving some testing samples showing elevated lead levels in a limited number of properties in the service area on June 13, 2019, Aqua Illinois has worked and will continue to work closely with regulators and national experts to resolve this issue and restore high-quality drinking water for all affected customers.
How often is Aqua Illinois required to conduct water sampling?
The testing frequency for lead is governed by the U.S. EPA Lead and Copper Rule. New or altered systems must test more frequently while older systems with a history of acceptable results are required to be tested less frequently. In most cases, water utility companies test water every three years. Because of the change in water source, Aqua Illinois is currently required to conduct lead and copper sampling twice per year. That means Aqua Illinois is required to test during two different sampling periods within the calendar year: January to June and July to December. While working to resolve this issue, Aqua Illinois is conducting compliance sampling every two weeks.
Aqua Illinois is required to work with at least 40 homes. In working to resolve this issue, we have expanded the sample pool to include 83 homes. We appreciate the customers who have volunteered to become part of the expanded sampling pool.
Does boiling my water remove lead?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boiling tap water will NOT reduce lead.
To read more, please visit the CDC’s website at:
Will any water filter remove lead?
According to federal regulators, only certain water filters reduce lead. Aqua Illinois has delivered and made available water filter pitchers and faucet filters that are certified by the NSF, an accredited third-party certification body that evaluates point-of-use drinking water filters for lead reduction, to remove lead in water and as recommended by the EPA and the CDC. These certified filters make it safe to consume the filtered water when the filters are used properly. Please follow all manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper use.
Please see the EPA’s Consumer Tool for Identifying Point-of-Use Drinking Water Filters Certified to Reduce Lead here: https://www.epa.gov/water-research/consumer-tool-identifying-pou-drinking-water-filters-certified-reduce-lead.
Can you can see, taste or smell lead in water?
You cannot see, taste or smell lead in drinking water. According to the CDC, the only way to detect lead in water is to have the water tested. To read more, please visit the CDC’s website at: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.
Should I flush my pipes?
Running your water for 2 to 3 minutes after the water has been stagnant for several hours can reduce potential lead exposure. Aqua Illinois test results show a significant reduction in lead concentration in the water for samples that were collected after flushing the pipes for a few minutes. This is consistent with the EPA guidance that says flushing your pipes reduces lead in your drinking water, and you can flush your pipes by taking a shower, washing dishes or doing laundry. For these non-consumption purposes, it is safe to use your tap water without filtering.
To read more, please visit the EPA’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water#reducehome.
I have a water softener. What should I do?
You should turn off or bypass the water softener as the softener could negatively impact the water chemistry and prevent the formation of the protective scale.
What were the elevated levels in 2018, and were these made public?
Aqua Illinois collected 42 lead and copper samples in University Park in August 2018. Five sample results exceeded the EPA action limit of 15 micrograms per liter (ug/L). The individual results were 16, 19, 22, 23, and 34 ug/L. Aqua Illinois mailed all 42 customers sampled their results. Aqua Illinois’ environmental compliance manager also called each of the customers whose water showed results higher than the EPA action limit. All results are available to the public on the IEPA’s website. Listed below are the instructions on how to find all testing results before the water switch and after the switch. These instructions were shared on the Village website. If you have any difficulties finding this information on the website, please call 877.987.2782.
Lead Analytics Results:
Recent University Park sampling was done under the Aqua Illinois Kankakee facility public water system ID after the switch in water source. Data for lead analytical results for University Park’s water can be accessed as follows:
- For lead data before 2018, use the Aqua Illinois-University Park public water system ID number (IL1975030)
- For lead data between 7/1/2018 and 6/30/2019, use Aqua Illinois-Kankakee (IL0915030)
- For lead data after 7/1/2019, Illinois EPA switched back to Aqua Illinois-University Park (IL1975030)
Illinois EPA website
Go to the Illinois EPA homepage at https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/Pages/default.aspx and do the following:
- Click on Drinking Water Watch
- Enter the Water System No. – for 2018 data, use IL0915030
- Click on the ID hyperlink.
- Click on Chem/Rad Samples/Results by Analyte
- Click on the Analyte code for lead 1030
- The results for 2018 and 2019 that are listed currently are all from University Park. Kankakee will be sampling later.
To see the 90th percentile value for lead, repeat steps 1-3, then click on Lead and Copper Summary Results. (Note: the DS2 code means this is University Park data.)
What will Aqua Illinois do if blood testing results show evidence of elevated lead in customers’ systems?
According to the EPA, people are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. According to the CDC, most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults. If the level of lead in a child's blood is at or above the CDC action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, it may be due to lead exposures from a combination of sources.
Aqua Illinois offered free comprehensive lead assessments, including home, water and blood testing – because we want our customers to have a complete understanding of their potential lead exposure. Customers should consult with the county health department and their health provider for medical advice.
How can I use my tap water if I am under the advisory?
If you remain impacted, you can consume the tap water in your home if you first take both of the following precautions together:
- First, run cold tap water through your faucet (not through the faucet filter) for two to three minutes before use. This prevents the faucet filter from being exposed to lead particles and keeps the filtering process from slowing down due to particle buildup; and
- after running the faucet, filter cold tap water through water filters that are certified by the NSF to reduce lead, like the water pitcher filters and faucet filters Aqua Illinois provided and continues to offer to customers.
After filtering the cold tap water, you can heat it up before consumption if you prefer (for example, on the stove or in the microwave).
You can use unfiltered tap water (hot or cold) for bathing, washing hands, washing dishes, doing laundry and other non-consumption uses while under the advisory according to the CDC and the EPA, because human skin does not absorb lead in water.
To read more, please visit the CDC’s website at:
https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm or the EPA’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water#reducehome.
We collected samples after running the water for two to three minutes. In those samples, almost every home, even those with the highest levels of lead in their first-draw samples, came back below the EPA action level about 95 percent of the time. That is why we are encouraging customers to run their water for two to three minutes before use.
Has the number of residences lifted from the advisory slowed down?
In the days after we issued the do-not-consume advisory, we worked with the IEPA to begin lifting entire areas from the advisory based on testing results in those areas and the age of properties in those areas.
At this point, we have lifted all such areas and are now working with owners of hundreds of individual properties inside the advisory area and built after 1990 to conduct testing and lift them from the advisory. Because of this, please know that it is possible for one property to be under the advisory while a property next door or across the street is not under the advisory. The property’s age, its individual internal plumbing and water lead testing results determine whether any given property is on or off the list. Aqua Illinois is directly notifying property owners once their properties have been lifted from the advisory.
Are there side effects or reactions the human body might experience from the use of polyphosphate and orthophosphate used to treat the water?
These treatments are commonly used to treat water and do not have negative side effects on the human body. They are NSF-certified for use in drinking water. Any treatment chemical used in drinking water in North America is required to comply with the standard - NSF/ANSI/CAN 60: Drinking Water Treatment Chemicals.
Can Aqua Illinois provide weekly concise updates through a platform other than Facebook and provide detailed explanations of the data posted at WaterFactsIL.com along with the opportunity to ask questions?
Aqua Illinois is continually evaluating the most effective ways of communicating with customers. We are currently providing information through our dedicated website, WaterFactsIL.com. We are also doing door-to-door flyers, direct mail, and notifications through our WaterSmart Alerts program. Customers can also get updates and ask questions at our Information Center, or by calling our customer care team and being connected with one of our subject-matter experts. The Village is also posting information to their website for customers to view.
We are also planning to direct mail monthly newsletters to help share the information important to our customers. We mailed color newsletters in the past to update customers on important events happening in the community and we believe reviving that program would be beneficial to our customers. We are also evaluating the potential of an emailed newsletter or monthly update to customers in order to provide as many opportunities possible to share valuable information.
Can Aqua Illinois deliver to every address in University Park water quality reports in newsletter form at a minimum of twice a year, stating what chemicals and levels were found in the water?
All water utilities must provide annual water quality reports, or Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs) to customers. This is the best way to deliver water quality information to our customers. Developed as a result of the 1996 reauthorization of the U.S. EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, CCRs inform customers about the quality of their drinking water supply.
CCRs summarize the quality of water Aqua provides, including information about its water sources, what its drinking water contains and how it compares to standards established by the EPA.
Customers can access those reports online at https://www.aquaamerica.com/customer-service-center/water-quality.aspx.
Why did some residents receive water bills?
Aqua Illinois did not charge any affected customers in University Park, Green Garden and Monee Townships with water or sewer charges in June. However, customers with outstanding balances on their accounts would have seen those charges reflected in their June bill.
We understand the inconvenience that this situation has caused to those who remain in the affected area, and those residents were not charged for water or sewer in July.
Does Aqua Illinois’ water system in University Park have any lead service lines?
We do not believe there are any lead service lines in our University Park water system, or any lead in our water distribution system. However, if you are concerned about your individual property, please call our customer service center at 877.987.2782. We are happy to send a member of our team out to your home to confirm there are no lead service lines leading to your property.