Pintas & Mullins Law Firm is happy to announce that the village of Crestwood recently agreed to a $15 million settlement with current and former residents harmed by contaminated public water. We represented many of these residents and are glad that Crestwood officials agreed to finally resolve this case.
Crestwood, a southern suburb of Chicago, will pay for the settlement with $9 million from a bond issue, $3 million in current funds, and the remaining $4 million from insurance.
This story begins in 1985, when village officials discovered one of its public drinking water wells contained vinyl chloride, perchlororethylene, and dichloroethylene. Vinyl chloride is a chemical known to cause cancer, and is used most often to make certain kinds of plastic. Studies dating back to the 1930s show the chemical can induce severe liver damage and, if exposed over long periods of time or in large amounts, can cause cancerous tumors.
After the chemical contamination was discovered in 1985, Crestwood told residents and the state that it would shut down the well and only use purchased water from neighboring Alsip. The water mains running from Alsip to the Crestwood community were leaky, however, which Crestwood was unwilling to fix. Instead, officials devised an elaborate scheme to supplement its public water supply with water from the chemically-contaminated well, beginning in 1986.
From 1985 to 2007, as much as 20% of Crestwoodâs public water was from the well containing vinyl chloride. Because the state was told the well was not being used at all, it never required any further testing to be done. At least two Crestwood officials were accused of taking extensive measures, including falsifying records, to hide the wellâs use from state regulators.
That was, until 2007, when state inspectors noticed that Crestwood was supplying far more water to its residents than it claimed to be buying from Alsip. This was discovered when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) tested emergency backup wells statewide. Crestwood was claiming the contaminated well was only to be used in emergencies, so the IEPA tested its contents in 2007, more than 20 years after the initial contamination and proclaimed shutdown.
According to court records, Crestwood employees kept secret logbooks recording how much water was being pumped from the contaminated well into public water. Only one Crestwood official took the fall for the scheme, however. Theresa Neaubaur, the former water department supervisor, was found guilty of one criminal count for her involvement, along with ten counts of making false statements in official documents.
Neaubaur claimed she was at the âbottom of the food chain,â taking orders from Mayor Chester Stranczek and other top officials who wanted to avoid fixing the leaky water mains.
In 2014, Crestwood agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That civil lawsuit accused village officials of lying more than 120 times about the scheme.
Kidney, Lung, and Gastrointestinal Cancer
After this was all discovered, the Illinois Department of Public Health analyzed cancer cases in Crestwood between 1994 and 2006. The Department found higher-than-normal rates of:
- Gastrointestinal cancer in men
- Kidney cancer in men
- Lung cancer in men and women
Perchloroethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent, is in particular is scientifically linked to kidney cancer. The federal government states that there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to vinyl chloride, which is associated with liver cancer and immune system disorders.
Nearly 350 plaintiffs ultimately filed suit against Crestwood, and our team of vinyl chloride attorneys is proud to see this case resolved. We have represented clients exposed to dangerous chemicals for 30 years, including asbestos, lead, benzene, and diacetyl. If you have any questions about toxic exposure or any type of personal injury law, contact our firm for a free consultation.