Sycamore, Illinois, Residents Sue City for Toxic Tap Water That Sickens Locals

Corrosion-control treatment continues to fail and the city refuses to act, allowing harmful metals and bacteria to pollute residents’ water

ROCKFORD, Ill. – Residents of Sycamore, Illinois, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Sycamore, alleging that it knowingly failed to maintain its water supply and ignored problems with its corrosion control treatment, causing discolored drinking water that “tastes like blood,” delivering toxic levels of lead to people’s homes and endangering their health, according to Hagens Berman.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 30, 2020, in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that the city of Sycamore created a public health crisis through decades of negligence, allowing its water system to deteriorate and corrode to the point where hundreds of residents now lack one of life's most basic needs: clean, potable water.

If you are a resident of Sycamore and believe you suffered physical, financial, or other hardships due to the city’s neglect of its water system, contact Hagens Berman’s legal team about the class-action lawsuit on behalf of Sycamore residents »

“Not only has the city of Sycamore failed miserably in its obligation to deliver this baseline service, it's done nothing to prevent a colossal public health crisis. Residents avoid running their shower due to the smell and report the taste of blood from their tap,” said Steve Berman, managing partner and co-founder of Hagens Berman. “What is happening in Sycamore, Illinois, is truly a nightmare.”

The complaint states that many Sycamore residents have reported chronic health issues related to exposure to the city's water, and consistent with lead toxicity. Cancer rates are high, and local residents report mysterious neurological issues, the lawsuit states. Some have reported losing patches of hair, while children exposed to the city's water exhibit abnormally aggressive behavior.

As the complaint notes, when Sycamore residents voiced concern over the safety of the city’s water in 2016, the city repeatedly replied that its water was up to Environmental Protection Agency standards and that the source of the problem was household water heaters or other home fixtures, often leading residents to purchase expensive replacements, to no avail. In fact, the amount of lead in Sycamore's water supply was well beyond safe levels, and the city was aware that its system was in dire need of updating.

Instead of responding to its residents, the city of Sycamore has consistently brushed off complaints, deferred maintenance, and ignored the failures of its corrosion control methods. The mains have deteriorated to the point where large amounts of iron are present in the city’s water supply, the complaint states. That iron then interferes with the chlorine and phosphate treatments added to the water, which further endangers residents’ health.

To combat the city’s failures, hundreds of Sycamore residents formed Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore, a group established to advocate for a cleaner municipal water supply. Many of its members sent water samples to private laboratories for testing, revealing elevated levels of lead present in nearly every tap.

“Delivering clean water to its residents is one of the most basic and essential tasks that a city is asked to provide," Berman said. "The city has doubled down on its failure by telling its own residents they are somehow responsible for their polluted water."

According to the lawsuit, the overwhelming stench, taste, and health risks of the municipal water force residents to use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing. Some residents have resorted to using disposable plates and utensils due to the city water’s shocking ability to stain clothes, dishes, and more with its reported red-orange color. As for its odor, it allegedly smells like sewage, giving a mere shower the potential to stink up an entire home, attorneys say.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for affected Sycamore residents, as well as compensation for relevant property repairs. The lawsuit also seeks to compel the city to replace all water mains installed prior to 1960, and an adequate system to control corrosion, through an injunction.

The federal class action accuses the city of neglecting to maintain its aging water system, of fraudulently claiming that its water is safe to drink and of creating a public nuisance through its pattern of deception when communicating with residents.

Find out more about the class-action lawsuit against the city of Sycamore.

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About Hagens Berman
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