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Leukemia Blamed on Tainted Well Water In Illinois

CHICAGO (CN) - Ignoring warnings from environmentalists, an Illinois suburb let toxic dry-cleaning chemicals seep into the public water supply, a woman with leukemia claims in Federal Court.

Mary Smetana sued the village of Crestwood; its former and current mayors, Chester and Robert Stranczek; and its water supply operator, Frank Scaccia.

She says that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had advised the Chicago suburb in 1986 "that the water in its municipal well was contaminated with dangerous chemicals," including vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen that can form when dichloroethylene breaks down over several years.

The chemicals had seeped into groundwater from a local business, M.J. Kelly Inc. dba Playfield Cleaners & Laundry, as indicated by the EPA in March 2010, Smetana claims.

Back in 1986, Crestwood had allegedly responded to the EPA's warning by saying that it would pay the neighboring suburb of Alsip for Lake Michigan water.

Crestwood told residents that year it was supplying them only with Lake Michigan water, treated by Chicago, and that it had placed its municipal well on "emergency-backup status" to avoid required tests for chemical pollutants, according to the complaint.

In reality, however, the suburb spent the next 21 years supplying "untreated water from its contaminated well to its residents on a routine basis," the complaint states.

Smetana says Crestwood mixed clean Alsip water with "up to 20 percent" of its chemical-ridden well water through December 2007.

The complaint notes that an investigator had even found carcinogens in Crestwood's "Well 1" in July 1997.

After the state EPA newly required quarterly sampling of emergency-backup wells, carcinogens were again found in the well in 2007, the 28-page complaint states.

That same year, the agency received an anonymous complaint about Crestwood's sullied water supply, and the Chicago Tribune reported on the investigation two years later, Smetana claims.

Smetana, who lived in the suburb from 1984 to 1990, blames the tainted water for her March 2013 leukemia diagnosis.

"At all times prior to April 22, 2009, defendant Village of Crestwood concealed that its water was unsafe," Smetana claims.

She alleges negligence, product liability and violations of the state Environmental Protection Act and Administrative Code, the Pollution Control Board Rules, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Also named as defendants are Playfield Plaza Development and its owner, Dean Vallas, as well as the individual owners of the cleaners, Choong Suk Joo and Don Mee Joo.

A class had sued Crestwood over the tainted water in 2009, and the 7th Circuit held last year that the village could not seek indemnification on such claims from its insurer.

Smetana says she has suffered permanent injury, disability, disfigurement, pain, suffering, loss of a normal life, loss of wages, and medical expenses as a result of the pollution.

She is represented by Jill Webb and Timothy O'Hara with Phillips Law Offices.

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