News - DeKalb County

Sycamore residents file lawsuit against city over water quality

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After months of public outcry over concerns about water quality, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the city of Sycamore by multiple residents Friday.

According to federal court documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle, residents Jennifer Campbell, of the 400 block of Edward Street, and Jeremy Pennington, of the 600 block of Park Avenue, filed the lawsuit with class attorneys Steve W. Berman out of Seattle, Washington, and Mark T. Vazquez of Chicago on Friday on several counts, including fraud, deceptive business, negligence and public nuisance.

"Plaintiffs and members of the class have all suffered, and will continue to suffer, harm and damages as a result of the City’s unlawful and wrongful conduct," according to the complaint.

The class members also allege that the city violated their 14th Amendment due process rights.

"The City, while acting under color of state law, affirmatively created or exacerbated the dangers and dangerous situations to which Plaintiffs were exposed, making them more vulnerable to said dangers, and the City did so with an extreme degree of culpability," according to the complaint.

The residents are asking the court to order several actions by the city, including the replacement of all water mains installed before 1960 and to declare the conduct of the city unconstitutional, according to court documents. They also are requesting awards for compensatory, punitive and exemplary damages.

The update comes after Campbell announced during the Oct. 5 City Council meeting that residents in a group called Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore had retained legal counsel over the issue. When asked whether legal action was planned, the answer was no up to that point.

The group said it’s identified two major problems it said involve city water: a foul-smelling odor that prohibits them from using it and concerning amounts of lead in the water. It’s unclear whether the two issues are related, as officials still are working to identify the source of the odor and thus far, maintain that lead levels within city water are safe.

Residents have maintained for months they do not believe the city is acknowledging the severity of the problem, while city officials in turn have said the water remains safe to drink under standards laid out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Test results from two EPA-certified laboratories show discrepancies in lead levels in Sycamore residents' homes, and those from the EPA and city officials, along with members of the water group, say it's because the water samples are being gathered for those tests differently.

Results for residents on Edward Street, Alden Drive and East Elm Street conducted by an EPA-certified St. Charles-based water conditioning and treatment company show high levels of lead – more than 60 parts per billion. The EPA's threshold for safe amounts of lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion.

However, results from a Geneva EPA-certified lab commissioned by the city of Sycamore show 5.57 parts per billion in a sample size of 30 homes surveyed.

Earlier this month, EPA spokesperson Kim Biggs said Sycamore city officials were planning to conduct follow-up testing at these homes to verify lead level results.

The city, meanwhile, is weighing whether to impose a $6.90 monthly water fee on residents’ water bills to help pay for a planned $11.2 million overhaul of the water system to address quality concerns. The water master plan, approved in 2019, was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic and city officials not wishing to increase water bills during times of financial constraint.

City officials and Campbell were not immediately available for comment Friday evening.

• This developing story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.