A new bill requiring public water suppliers to notify the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency before their water supply hits unsafe contaminant levels unanimously passed a key environmental state panel earlier this month.
The Illinois EPA proposed the bill to correct any contamination problems before they become a larger issue, said John Cross, the agency’s legislative liaison.
“Problems with these chemicals precipitated the concern,” said Cross. “We’re trying to get to the worst of the worst of carcinogens, the nasty of the nasty.”
Senate Bill 3070 would require that when carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals, are detected in the public water supply, suppliers, which are generally municipalities, would have to address the problem when it is at 50 percent of the unsafe level rather than waiting until the water is in violation and hits the maximum contaminant level.
It would be up to the regulated water supplier to be responsible for providing safe drinking water testing, and towns would have 45 days to come up with a corrective plan before a fine was issued.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-Crystal Lake) said she thought it would be a “wise situation” if a municipality could be aware of a potential problem and could notify the EPA so the agency could let residents know a plan is in place.
“The EPA has answers and can assure that the municipality is aware and they’re working together,” said Althoff. “Most residents assume that collaboration is in place. We’re putting in something that says it must be.”
Currently, Illinois law states that notification is not needed until the maximum contaminant level is exceeded, said Althoff.
“It’s beneficial to the community,” she said of the bill. “On record there has to be some sort of plan to remove those carcinogens.”
The impetus for SB3070, Althoff said, was the situation in Crestwood, Ill., where during a routine EPA inspection it was discovered that officials had been diluting Lake Michigan water with well-water contaminated with vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen unsafe at any level.
There is one other municipality in the state, Sauk Village, that currently has a vinyl chloride issue; the EPA is working with the attorney general’s office to devise an action plan. Cross said once a water supplier is in violation, they not only violate EPA standards but also the Federal Clean Water Act, which the EPA enforces. The violator then is sent a violation notice and has to come up with corrective action to reduce carcinogens.
“Everybody is required to meet these limits,” Cross said. “Rather than wait for a violation or worse, let’s address it preemptively. You want to get to it before you have the bigger problem of human health and safety, plus a bigger expense as it gets worse.”
Althoff said she anticipates SB3070 will go to a full Senate vote by the end of March. She said she’s working on the bill’s language with the Illinois Municipal League, who had concerns that if municipalities spent time and money on a plan, the EPA might make them change it.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Althoff. “But everyone knows the global intent.”
Joe Schatteman, research information service coordinator with the Illinois Municipal League, which reports to municipalities throughout the state on all issues, said his group’s concern was that the EPA could rewrite an entire plan and the municipality would have to comply with it, no matter what the cost.
“That cost would trickle down to taxpayers,” said Schatteman, adding that he is working with Althoff and the EPA on a compromise.