Source: Last 2 Samples of Park Forest Water Test Clean. Residents Had Many Questions Saturday.

Saturday Rules Meeting during the July 2019 boil order
The village-wide boil order brought a number of people seeking answers to the Saturday Rules meeting. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Boil Order Remains in Effect

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Residents may be able to use Park Forest water freely again beginning Monday. A source close to the Village of Park Forest tells eNews Park Forest that the last two water samples sent out to be analyzed came back negative for any bacteria. As of now, however, the boil order is still in effect.

The Village of Park Forest enacted a village-wide boil order after monthly routine sampling tested positive for two types of bacteria: E. coli and total coliform. After retesting, Mr. Vavrek said Saturday via email, “The first sample was bad and we collected the second for confirmation. The second showed NO E. coli and trace amounts of total coliform.”

eNews Park Forest has subsequently learned that testing results now are coming back clean.

If the IEPA verifies these results Monday, the boil order should be lifted.

Residents had many questions Saturday during an unusually crowded Rules Meeting. These meetings are held on the first Saturday of each month. The agenda is set by residents who might have comments or questions. Typically, members of the Village Board and staff are on hand to field questions. Typically, there are few to no residents who show up.

In the midst of the village-wide water boil order, however, Saturday was the exception. Questions asked by members of the public or by board members are in headers below.

First, Why Did the Village Not Warn Residents Sooner About the Water?

“The village does routine testing of our water throughout the village,” Director of Communications Jason Miller said.” The testing was conducted on Tuesday but it takes 24 hours to get the results. We got the results, then had to sample a second time. We got the results from the testing from Tuesday on Wednesday, but then you have to wait another 24 hours to get the results from Wednesday on Thursday.”

“But that didn’t warrant at least an alert on Wednesday,” one resident asked?

“No,” Director Miller said. “Sometimes you can have false positives which is why you have to test a second time to confirm the initial test was accurate. The second test conducted on Wednesday came back Thursday, it was the holiday, it was late in the day. I think it was 6:00 o’clock on Thursday is when the water plant was notified.”

“First think in the morning on Friday, they went out, took some more samples,” Mr. Miller continued, “met as a team, and then we started to get the information out on Friday.”

Trustee Joe Woods asked how often does the village test water?

“They do weekly random samples,” Director of Human Resources/Assistant to the Village Manager Denyse Carreras responded. “There’s what’s called compliance testing that’s done twice a month. It was in that compliance testing that this one small area had shown.”

“They got a positive in one area,” Director Carreras continued, “so they have to go five houses down, five houses up, all those came back clear. So, there’s this protocol set up by the IEPA.” Ms. Carreras said samples have to be driven to a third-party lab which the village uses for all water testing. This lab is in Indiana.

(Note at 6:37 PM: Water Plant Chief Operator David Vavrek responded to an email Sunday, July 7, after 6:00 PM, “We use Microbac Labs in Merrillville Indiana.  They are Illinois State certified and are the closest lab located to us.”)

Will County and Cook County Sections of Park Forest Are Not On Separate Distribution Systems

Resident Sara Veldhuizen said she saw information on social media that said Cook County was doing the testing. “I think it’s important that we get that out because some people were concerned that, if it’s being tested in Cook County, is it being tested in Will County?”

Director Carreras agreed that it would be good to get information out to residents. However, there are not separate water distribution systems for the Will and Cook Counties sections of Park Forest. It’s all one system that originates from the water plant. All pipes are connected. The entire system ebbs and flows. That is why this boil order is village-wide. Even though the positive results only came from one sample, officials could not risk the possibility that bacteria would travel throughout the system.

From where does the village take water samples for testing?

“They choose random areas from around the village to make sure that all areas in town are covered,” Mr. Miller replied.

Ms. Carreras added that sometimes the actual wells are tested. At that point, Ms. Carreras offered to call the Director of Public Works Roderick Ysaguirre and have him available on speaker phone. Mayor Jon Vanderbilt asked that she call Director Ysaguirre.

“We take samples on our well water lines,” Mr. Ysaguirre said, “and we also take samples on our finished water, on the distribution side. On the distribution side, there’s multiple sites throughout the village that the water plant goes to on a monthly basis. We have sampling stations that we’ve installed throughout the village. Those are outside. You may have seen them.”

Mr. Ysaguirre said these sampling stations are approximately a 3-feet tall, 6-inch by 6-inch green box with a small door workers open. Inside is a spigot.

“We take samples from those locations,” Mr. Ysaguirre continued. Also, there are areas where water plant staff will take samples from faucets at Village Hall. Additionally, there are some residences where staff sometimes take samples, churches, some businesses, and, occasionally, fire hydrants.

Which sites tested positive from this past week?

Director Ysaguirre said the positive test results came from a sampling station by Miami and Suwanee Streets.

“We installed a new water main down Suwanee,” Mr. Ysaguirre said. “Usually in our water main replacement project we install a sampling site in the area.”

The sample results from that station is the only sample site in the village that came back unsatisfactory, Director Ysaguirre said.

Director Ysaguirre said Chief Water Plant Operator David Vavrek was in Friday collecting samples again. Those results were expected to be in Saturday evening, he said at the meeting on Saturday. Mr. Vavrek also came in Saturday to collect more samples.

Chief Water Plant Operator David Vavrek
Chief Water Plant Operator David Vavrek (center) at an April 2019 meeting of the Village Board. On the left, Director of Human Resources/Assistant to the Village Manager Denyse Carreras. On the right, Director of Community Development Larrie Kerestes. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

The IEPA will then review the results, Director Ysaguirre said. “They’re the ones who give the final approval to lift any boil orders or boil advisories.”

Director Ysaguirre said he did not expect to hear anything from the IEPA until “first thing Monday morning” or later Monday.

Any idea of the cause of this contamination?

Director Ysaguirre said at this point, officials had not isolated the cause. “I talked to Dave [Vavrek]. He gave us some insights. As you take the sample, you gotta be very meticulous, you gotta be very stringent on how you go about it. He did mention it could be just as simple as if somebody sneezed while they were taking the sample, that could contaminate it. Then you would get a failed result.”

“If you do not sanitize the spigot well enough,” Mr. Ysaguirre continued, “sometimes you can get something from the spigot or whatever might be in the air in the vicinity of the sample site to cause a contamination.”

This particular sample station is located in a right-of-way, exposed to the elements, Mr. Ysaguirre said. “There could be a whole bunch of different ideas or thoughts” as to what caused a bad sample.

Positive Results May Have Been Because of Human Error

The positive results may have been false positives.

“We’re thinking that it was just the tester’s error,” Director Ysaguirre said. “That’s why we’re going through and recollecting. Dave [Vavrek] is actually doing it personally.”

Mr. Ysaguirre said that the water plant had “a good chlorine residual prior to the failed sample. He’s looking to possibly adjust it. Keep in mind, though, that we have to stay within certain chlorine limits. We can’t just ‘crank it up.’ Otherwise, we could be in violation of too much chlorine. So, we have to find that fine balance.”

“Out of the 26 or 30 samples that were taken, this was the only one” that tested positive, Director Ysaguirre said.

Was anyone in danger swimming at the Park Forest Aqua Center?

According to Director Carreras, the order was “consumption only.” People swimming in the pools at the Aqua Center were safe, but the village did have to shut off soda machines and drinking fountains. “The IEPA felt the pool was fine,” Ms. Carreras said.

Filtration Systems Do Nothing for Bacterial Issues

A question from a member of the public came up regarding filtration systems for water. Would they stop bacteria?

“Filtration systems don’t do anything for bacteria,” Director Ysaguirre said. “Boiling water would kill the bacteria. Water filtration, like the Brita filters and things like that, I believe all that does is for taste and if there are any other sort of particles.”

This Water Issue is Completely Unrelated to What University Park is Dealing With

The question came up at the meeting. That’s the answer. University Park is dealing with lead contamination. Park Forest does not have that problem.

When Misinformation Comes from the Social Media, and Specifically, the Mayor on Social Media

Resident Sara Veldhuizen expressed concerns over some of the misinformation that she saw on social media regarding this water crisis. Specifically, she said some were advising that water only needed to be boiled for one minute and that home filtration systems were adequate to rid the water of potential bacteria.

One of the people who expressed these views, according to Ms. Veldhuizen, was Mayor Vanderbilt. Ms. Veldhuizen said Mayor Vanderbilt wrote on his personal Facebook page that boiling water for one minute was adequate. She later told eNews Park Forest that Mr. Vanderbilt said water filters “should be okay” in a comment.

Residents at a Saturday Rules meeting during the July 2019 village-wide boil order
More residents in attendance at Saturday’s Rules meeting. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

“I do believe it was corrected,” Ms. Veldhuizen said, “but that’s really important that everybody’s on the same page.”

“It could have been a typo,” Ms. Veldhuizen said, “but the important thing is that we’re reading it through before it gets out there.”

At this point in the meeting, Mayor Vanderbilt had left to go to work. Ms. Veldhuizen said she would have shared this while he was still in the room (he left at approximately 10:55 a.m.), but another resident began sharing a different issue regarding standing water outside her home and Ms. Veldhuizen said that took precedence.

“Sometimes in the haste of the rush, that’s how mistakes are made,” Director Miller said. “But when those mistakes are made, then you have some clean-up to do. That’s a very valid concern, and we’re going to talk about that in our debrief and make sure everybody understands. We want to be as quick as we can to the punch, but not at the expense of putting out inaccurate information.”

Ms. Veldhuizen said, in her opinion, official information needs to come from one source “when that village communication is put out, and not from a variety of sources.”

One resident, Sandra Slone, said she, as an educator, “we always said one person was the spokesman for that organization. Also, as independents, we did not use our personal Facebook, Twitter account, whatever, for the business of the school district or for the school. Those are two separate operations. Your personal life is one thing, but your professional is another.”

Ms. Slone is a past School Board President of District 162.