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La Valle residents unable to use tap water due to benzene
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La Valle residents unable to use tap water due to benzene

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Filtration system

The village of La Valle approved a contract at a special meeting Dec. 28 for a benzene water filtration system which will be custom built on a mobile semi-trailer.

The village of La Valle is supplying bottled water to residents after they were told Dec. 23 that unsafe levels of benzene were found in the villages’ only well.

“When benzene concentrations are greater than 100 µg/L, the lifetime risk of cancer is more than 1 case in 10,000 people,” the warning from the village said. “EPA considers a cancer risk of 1 in 100,000,000 to 1 in 10,000 to be acceptable.”

Benzene is a light colored liquid at room temperature that is highly flammable that is a component of gasoline. It is used in production of a wide variety of products including plastics, resins, dyes, detergents, pesticides, lubricants and more.

Since Dec. 23 residents have been advised not to drink or use tap water for cooking and instead use bottled water. The village has been providing bottled water to residents at the village hall, and several board members said they have been delivering water to residents unable to make it to the village hall. Those efforts will continue for the next two months.

“We know it’s not good for you, but you can still wash your dishes, dry them, (because) benzene evaporates in the air,” Board President Rocky Sobeck said. “You can’t boil it to get rid of it, but a quick shower (is fine).”

Sobeck said the village did not know where the high levels of benzene were coming from, and with only one well they cannot take the well offline to attempt to locate the source. According to Sobeck, the village’s well pumps more than 25,000 gallons of water each day, and the village does not have another means of providing that volume of water to residents with the well offline for testing.

“Where it comes from, we do not have an idea, somewhere down in the well… We don’t even have the luxury of investigating it,” Sobeck said. “The whole village has to work together with this. It’s not my fault. You can go back 40 years, and everyone that’s been on the board, the DNR has said ‘Where’s your second well?’ We don’t have the money for it.”

At a meeting Monday (Dec. 28), the village of La Valle approved the financing and contract for a water filtration system with funding from an emergency $1.44 million grant.

Clerk Colette Radtke said the discovery of benzene in the well is “horrible,” but said the “silver lining” of the discovery is the approval of the grant which will allow the city to both filter the water and provide a second well.

“Long before I was even a clerk here, they’ve always asked for funding and grants for a new well, and we’ve always been rejected because the village of La Valle doesn’t have that much money for a new well without grant funding,” Radtke said. “It’s horrible that we’ve got benzene, but now because we do have benzene we got this wonderful grant.”

The filtration system will be custom built for the village by Water Surplus, an Illinois company. Money for the initial payment, about $35,000, will be taken from the utilities budget before being replaced once the money from the grant is received in early January. Sobeck said the board is unsure of the total cost of the filtration project as the system is a rental, and the village does not know how long it will be needed, but the money from the grant will cover the cost.

While the filtration system is running, the village will also work on plans for a second well. Dan Greve of MSA said the project is estimated to take about two years, with completion expected near the end of 2022. Placement of the second well has not been determined, though Greve said it would be located in an area where flooding would not affect its operation.

“The filtering system will remain in place until the second well is done,” Greve said. “Once that well is done, hopefully we’ll be able to do something with the (current) well to bring that well back online to have two functioning wells.”

Sobeck said the village and MSA have been working to apply for the grant for the second well “for months,” and approval came through after the benzene was discovered. The grant is an Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant through USDA Rural Development.

Greve estimates the filtration system will be ready for deployment in about two months. In the interim, Sobeck said the village will continue to help provide water to residents. Residents can pick up one case of bottled water per day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., or by appointment.

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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