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Sauk Village Water Woes A Reminder Of Crestwood Water Scandal

CRESTWOOD, Ill. (CBS) -- Sauk Village's recent woes over contaminated drinking water have served as a reminder of similar problems another Chicago suburb faced five years ago, when residents discovered their drinking water had been contaminated for years.

State officials have begun the process of installing air strippers in the Sauk Village water well, in order to remove vinyl chloride contamination that has prompted the village to supply residents with bottled water.

The problem in Sauk Village got the staff at CBS 2 wondering what life has been like in southwest suburban Crestwood, which dealt with its own problems with contaminated drinking water in 1007.

CBS 2's Marissa Bailey reports Crestwood – a village of 11,000 people about 20 miles away from Sauk Village – has had its own problems with vinyl chloride contamination, and since 2007, its reputation precedes itself.

"Usually, when people hear where I'm from, the first thing they say is, 'Oh, I heard about Crestwood, and you guys have dirty water,'" said Crestwood resident Natalie Alvarez. "Yeah, we did, but we have a really great neighborhood, and that was our only downfall. It was just that. … As they say, it's all fixed now."

In 2007, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found Crestwood's drinking water had twice the legal limit of vinyl chloride.

Crestwood had water coming in from Lake Michigan, but the Illinois EPA said village officials were using an old well to save money. That well was contaminated with vinyl chloride.

Almost five years later, neighbors are split on just how safe the water in Crestwood is.

Alvarez said she drinks only bottled water. She believes village officials when they say the water is clean now, but said she's not taking any chances.

"After what I heard, I mean, I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing, but our family never really had to worry about it, because … we were always bottled water," she said.

Fellow Crestwood resident Jamie Donnigan said she has no problem giving her older son Kevin tap water, but for now her younger son, Nathan, is getting only purified water with his baby formula.

Bessie Urlicks, who has been drinking the water in Crestwoos for almost all of her 70 years, said, "I'm still going."

She washes her dishes with it, and drinks right from the tap.

Since the controversy over the contaminated well in Crestwood, "It's been real quiet," Urlicks said.

She said she believes village leaders when they say the water system is fixed.

"I'm comfortable with it," She said. "I still use it daily."

The contaminated well in Crestwood has been inactive for more than three years. The most recent test for vinyl chloride there proved inconclusive, meaning levels were so low they couldn't be traced.

A handful of families and residents in Crestwood are still locked in a legal battle with the village over the contaminated water.

Also, two Crestwood officials indicted on federal charges in the village's tainted drinking water scandal will be going to trial next month.

A jury trial is set for Aug. 6 for Crestwood Police Chief Theresa Neubauer, who was a water department clerk and supervisor before joining the police department, and Frank Scaccia, the village's former certified water operator, according to the filing.

Both are accused of lying to environmental regulators about the village using water from a polluted well to supplement its drinking water supply for more than two decades.

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