Former Crestwood Water Department Head Found Guilty

In 2009, it was revealed that, for more than two decades, the residents of Crestwood, Illinois had been drinking contaminated, carcinogenic tap water. Vinyl chloride lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that the city’s ex-water department head was recently accused and found guilty of lying to federal investigators about the tainted water.

The verdict was decided on Friday, April 26, 2013 in federal court in Chicago. The former water department official, Theresa Neubauer, attempted to argue that she was merely “wearing the jacket” in the scandal for then-Mayor Chester Stranczek, along with two other city officials.

In 2011, Neubauer and Frank Scaccia, a water department operator, were indicted for helping cover up the use of well water contaminated with vinyl chloride to supplement the city’s drinking water for an astounding 22 years. Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas and known human carcinogen, affecting the cardiovascular system, developmental processes, liver, and immune system. It is also known as chloroethene, chloroethlyene, and ethylene monochloride, and there is no safe level of vinyl chloride exposure. Neubauer was ultimately found guilty on all 11 counts of intentionally misleading state inspectors about the city’s practice of mixing the tainted well water with Lake Michigan water supplies.

In efforts to save money, city officials were drawing drinking water from the contaminated well even after state environmental officials told them about the dangerous chemicals in the water. Crestwood officials assured the state that they would get all their tap water from Lake Michigan, and would use well waters only in an emergency. Records prove, however, that Crestwood drew from the tainted well water on a routine basis, using it for up to 20% of the city’s water supply.

In 2007, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) found that the city had been piping the water, untreated, to residents, and cited the city for violating federal and state laws. Crestwood, however, failed to notify its 11,000 residents of the toxic contamination.

Several of the city’s lake water lines sprung leaks in the 1980s, leaks that required extensive and expensive repairs, which would lead to higher water rates. In efforts to keep Crestwood’s water the “cheapest in the country,” officials hid the losses from the leaks by tapping into the contaminated water. For decades, Neubauer and her peers prepared monthly documents that hid the well use and sent them to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and IEPA.

Because the city did not report its use of the well water, the IEPA did not find it necessary to test it. In fact, an IEPA water supplies manager testified that Crestwood had not tested the well water since the 1970s.

The scandal was brought to light in 2009 when a mother refused to stop pressuring the city about why her son suffered leukemia as a toddler. She repeatedly asked the city for public records outlining what the EPA knew about the contaminated water, and consistently requested that state investigators dig deeper into the case.

It was ultimately revealed that the toxic substances had most likely leaked into the soil surrounding the well from dry cleaners in a strip mall located less than 300 feet from the well’s building. IEPA files indicated that high levels of chemicals had contaminated the soil near a barrel where waste chemicals were being collected for safe disposal. Once those chemical soaked into the ground, they formed plumes that moved quickly into ground waters.

An IEPA official stated that regulators were overwhelmed by the amount of contaminated sites throughout the state and did not have the manpower or resources to scour every file, especially when city officials were claiming to use the well only for emergency purposes. The Obama administration is currently considering whether to require dry cleaners to phase out the same carcinogenic chemical that tainted Crestwood’s water, as it is still being used in tens of thousands of establishments nationwide.

Toxic substance attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this story to make residents aware of the effects contaminated groundwater can have on the human body. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge about many types of toxic substance cases such as vinyl chloride, and will work to ensure you receive the best representation and largest settlement possible.

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