St. Joseph Co. says contaminated water must be addressed

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- St. Joseph County's health department says something must be done to address contaminated water in the Gilmer Park area, or people's health could be at risk.

An extensive and expensive study the county did of Granger and Gilmer Park wells revealed traces of nitrates, prescription drugs and even nicotine in some water samples.

In some areas, the contaminants were close to levels considered dangerous by the federal government.

The county held a meeting to discuss the situation with Gilmer Park homeowners Thursday night.

They had lots of questions. And, many were skeptical.

"For years, we've been drinking this water," said Stephen Reiter, a Gilmer Park resident since the 1950s. "I've been drinking it almost all my life and that hasn't affected me yet."

But, County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Felger says the potential risks are real. He's worried about the long-term effects the contaminated water could have on people in Gilmer Park -- especially infants and pregnant women.

"We think it's pretty urgent," he said. "Even though we can't say we have a bunch of sick people here, we know the potential is there. And, there's some unknowns."

The county says 'doing nothing' would compromise people's safety. So, they outlined several possible solutions.

The first is for homeowners to install in-home treatment systems, which could cost roughly $1,000.

"There are some real disadvantages to that," Felger said. "Almost all of them only go to one faucet. So, that means cooking, drinking from the hose, brushing your teeth, you would still have the high nitrates."

Another option would be for Gilmer Park residents to hook up to South Bend's water system. But, that could cost up to $1,800 upfront.

Many people at Thursday's meeting say that's not money they're willing to pay for a problem they don't think they have.

"I really think it's all a political ploy to get us to pay for the expansion on 31," said Shelley Steele-Leveque. "It's a way to get us to finance pet projects."

If Gilmer Park decided to join the public water system, it would take several months. The county doesn't think water would be available to them until Fall 2015 or Summer 2016.

They're sending surveys out to get feedback from Gilmer Park residents. After that process is complete, the county will decide how to move forward.

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