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Public Works Director Dave Stoneback assured about 80 south Evanston residents Thursday evening that their water is safe to drink, despite discovery of minute levels of coal-tar related compounds in some test samples in the area around James Park.

Stoneback said the highest level of the two chemicals — phenanthrene and fluoranthene — found in the water samples was more than 1,000 times lower than the limits set for them in drinking water by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. And only five of 14 sites tested showed any of the chemicals at all.

Some residents noted that the federal Center for Disease Control has classified the two chemicals and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as carcinogens. But the studies reviewed by the CDC deal with high exposure to the chemicals in laboratory animals and to occupational exposure by workers in coal gasification plants and similar settings.

Residents at the meeting, held in the Dawes Elementary School auditorium.

Stoneback suggested that residents who remained concerned could use a Brita or other carbon-based water filter, which should be capable of removing both of the chemicals from their drinking water.

Ann Rainey.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the area where the testing has turned up the chemicals, said she planned to ask the City Council to provide carbon filters for everyone in the area.

The source of the chemicals is in dispute. The city argues, in a lawsuit filed against ComEd and Nicor, that they were produced at a goal gasification plant predecessor companies to the two firms operated at McCormick Boulevard and Oakton Street in Skokie during the first half of the last century.

The city claims the chemicals spread into Evanston through a tunnel under the North Shore Channel and along gas mains running into the city.

But as another resident said at the meeting, in decades past it was common practice to line water mains with coal tar as a way to reduce corrosion. Stoneback said the city doesn’t have records going far enough back to determine whether that process may have been used on old water mains around James Park.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said residents interested in having their water tested or to just be kept informed about future developments in the water situation could call 311 to be added to an email alert list.

Related story

Meeting to review water quality around James Park (8/31/16)

City officials pledge to do more water testing (6/17/16)

Water still safe, despite coal tar, city says (6/6/16)

Court dismisses James Park gas suit (2/19/16)

City: Nicor to blame for methane around park (2/3/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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