City to test water in south Evanston homes

Nora Shelly, City Editor

The city is planning on testing water in 40 south Evanston homes and 20 other sites as part of an ongoing look at water quality in the city.

In response to the discovery of black crust in and near water lines in south Evanston last year, city officials tested the water around James Park. Two compounds that were found in the water, phenanthrene and fluoranthene, are both constituents of coal tar and are harmful in larger concentrations than found in Evanston water.

The city has done three rounds of testing so far in Evanston, said Kimberly Richardson, assistant to the city manager. This round of testing includes 15 sites that previously have been tested and 40 residential sites requested by residents, as well as one site in each ward.

Richardson said the city was trying to be as transparent as possible with the water testing.

“There were residents who filed some concerns, who wanted to have their (water) tested,” she said. “ The city … believes that the water is safe and that the results will be significantly below the potable water standards.”

The city has refiled a lawsuit against ComEd, an electric utility company, and Nicor, a natural gas distributor, this May over materials found in water pipes.

In 2015, the city found black crust inside of a Dodge Avenue waterline, that is believed to be the same material as coal tar found at the Skokie Manufactured Gas Plant Site, which is just west of the city on Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard.

The city believes the materials, which are not harmful at the levels found in Evanston water, were brought to the area by gas lines last used in the mid-20th century. The lawsuit was refiled in May after an independent testing laboratory confirmed coal tar in places on water lines around James Park.

In south Evanston water both chemicals were found in concentrations 99.9 percent below the amount that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level. The concentrations also passed potable water standards set by the Illinois EPA.

Leo Sherman, who is involved in James Park Neighbors, a citizens group that formed to address concerns about the water quality, said he welcomes the water testing.

“We needed to test actual people that drink the water in a lower-volume type situation like homes,” he said.

Sherman said he has had his water tested by the city and his water main that runs to his house replaced.

Although the level of chemicals found in the water far surpasses the EPA’s safe water standards Sherman said, for residents, any amount of chemical is a concern.

“Our bottom line is that it’s not safe to have that in the water period,” he said.

According to city documents, the highest concentration of phenanthrene found was 0.054 ppb, while the potable water standard is 210 ppb, meaning that the water passes the EPA standards for safe drinking. For Fluoranthene, the highest concentration found was 0.029 ppb, while the potable water standard is 280 ppb.

Last September, both compounds were found in the water at one of six locations tested, five around James Park and one in northeast Evanston. Last October, the compounds were again found at the sample site, but not at another nearby tested location.

This July, water samples were collected from 15 locations, which included those previously tested. Compounds were found at four locations, including two locations where previously no compounds had been found. However, no compounds were again found at the original site in the first round of testing.

Richards, assistant to the city manager, said the city is sensitive to any concerns citizens have about water quality in light of recent attention the issue has gained nationally after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

“Evanston water is probably the one of the best…in the area,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that, if there is any concern or questions… to address them.”

Samples will be taken and tested sometime in November, according to the city bulletin.

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