On May 31, 2016, the City of Evanston re-filed a lawsuit in the Northern District Court of Illinois against Nicor and ComEd regarding materials found inside and around water lines in south Evanston. While the materials found pose no hazard today to drinking water or in any other way to the community, the City believes these materials were brought to the area by now abandoned gas lines used in the early to mid-20th Century.

This new filing included results from an independent testing laboratory that confirmed the presence of materials associated with “coal tar” that has been found on City water mains along Dodge Avenue near James Park. The report indicates all materials found are well below measurements required for reporting to the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection Agencies and pose no hazards to the community. 

The City provided this information to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and asked for its review. In an April 14, 2016 letter, the Acting Regional Administrator indicated that his review of the report indicated that the “crustaceous material that may be present in and around the Dodge Avenue Water Line does not pose an unacceptable threat to public health under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

The City sampled the drinking water from locations near the location where the black crust was found inside the water line. Chemicals have not been detected in drinking water above the Maximum Contaminant Level standards (MCL) set by the USEPA for drinking water quality. In fact, chemicals have not been found above levels that must be reported to USEPA and Illinois EPA. The City continues to test and sample water supplies to confirm current conditions.

In 2014 and the Summer of 2015, the City found a black crust on the outside of a 24” Pipe and the Dodge Avenue Water Line. The black crust on the Water Line and  24” Pipe have the same “chemical fingerprint” – that is, the black crust on both pipes contain the same chemicals. The black crust on both pipes also matches the “coal tar” found at the Skokie Manufactured Gas Plant Site (Skokie MGP) located at Oakton Street and McCormick Blvd. Nicor and ComEd are the corporate successors to Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company, which operated manufactured gas plants, and associated pipelines, in the City of Evanston from approximately 1871 until 1950.

In the summer of 2015, the black crust was discovered inside the Dodge Avenue Water Line. The chemical fingerprint of the black crust found inside the pipe matches that of the coal tar found at the Skokie MGP and the black crust found on the outside of the unidentified 24” pipe and the Dodge Avenue Water Line.

The presence of any coal tar inside the City’s water line is unacceptable. Therefore, the lawsuit is prudent to address Nicor and ComEd’s inaction and to force the corporations to address the present subsurface conditions in and around the James Park neighborhood. The City believes but for the actions of Nicor and ComEd, none of this material would be below ground. Since Nicor and ComEd refuse to provide information, refuse to cooperate, and take no responsibility whatsoever for this matter, the City has no choice but to prudently exercise its rights under applicable environmental statutes to determine the extent of this situation and identify appropriate means to remediate it to ensure the long-term health and safety of the community.

The City has posted the re-filed lawsuit and other information materials on our website for review: www.cityofevanston.org/June6. For further information please call/text the City at 847-448-4311. For convenience, you may dial 3-1-1 directly while in Evanston.