City officials address concerns about water quality with residents at James Park meeting


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

The Evanston Water Plant, 555 Lincoln St., is at the center of the city’s water system. In a meeting on Wednesday, city officials assuaged community fears over water quality in Evanston.

Zoe Miller, Reporter

City officials discussed public concerns over water quality in southwest Evanston and the city’s ongoing lawsuit against Nicor and ComEd at a meeting Wednesday.

The suit concerns currently non-harmful levels of coal tar and related chemicals found in and around Evanston water pipes. Testing was done on the pipes following the discovery of a black crust on the Dodge Avenue water line near James Park in 2015. The city alleges the chemicals come from gas lines installed by Nicor, a gas distribution company, and ComEd, an electric utility company.

Deputy city attorney Michelle Masoncup that, while the water is currently safe to drink, there is a possibility it will become unsafe in the future if action is not taken to correct the problem. Masoncup stressed the importance of winning the lawsuit in order to avoid future issues.

“We need to know where all the pipes are located,” Masoncup said. “We need (Nicor and ComEd) to dig out all (their) old drawings and identify them. That’s why we filed this lawsuit.”

City officials who have been involved in the lawsuit and resulting testing called the meeting. Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), whose district includes James Park, attended the event.

Public Works director Dave Stoneback addressed questions from residents regarding the safety of Evanston’s water.

Stoneback discussed the presence of coal-tar related chemicals outside of the James Park area, where they were initially discovered. Phenanthrene, a component of coal-tar, was found at the original sites where samples were taken. In large enough quantities, it can act as an irritant.

Further testing prompted by citizen concern yielded trace amounts of these chemicals in water outside of where they were first found, he said.

“We took 11 samples outside the James Park area,” Stoneback said. “We did find phenanthrene.”

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department released a statement in January confirming the quantities of phenanthrene and fluoranthene, two chemicals found in the water supply, are within the range deemed safe for human consumption by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The lawsuit against Nicor and ComEd is ongoing.

Evanston fire chief Brian Scott addressed the discovery of methane under James Park, which is non-toxic but highly flammable, and possibly originated from the same gas lines. Testing was performed in the areas where methane was found, Scott said.

“I want to give you total reassurance that (the methane poses) no public safety concerns,” Scott said.

Masoncup said the city has plans to eventually dispose of the methane.

Officials also addressed audience questions regarding the lead pipes in the city’s water system. The pipes deposit trace amounts of lead into the water, but the levels are well below the amount considered unsafe.

Five of the six claims the city filed against Nicor and ComEd were ruled legitimate in January by a federal judge.