Ill. governor signs clean water bill

August 23, 2009 9:06:21 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill Sunday that he says will help ensure Illinois citizens have safe, clean drinking water. The bill is designed to prevent future incidents like the water contamination discovered earlier this year in south suburban Crestwood, Ill. What happened in Crestwood infuriated many residents and also revealed flaws in satisfying the public's right to know about something as basic as the quality of its drinking water.

For years, Crestwood village officials told townspeople that all their water came from Lake Michigan exclusively, when records showed that Crestwood was co-mingling its lake water with water from a village well that had shown levels of a known carcinogen.

"They certainly weren't telling people who were drinking that water, brushing their teeth with that water, cooking with that water, showering with that water, that the water had contaminants in it. That is simply wrong, and it needs to end," said Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan.

"The best to make government stand up right is to lean on it every day," Gov. Pat Quinn said.

The governor has signed a law that will require water suppliers to notify all their customers if tests reveal any contamination with their water supply. In Crestwood's case, the EPA had long ago told the village that the well in question had problems, but Crestwood didn't tell residents. Under the new law, water suppliers have five days to notify all of their customers of any problems.

"Now, the operator will be forced immediately to send that information out to customers, which is a great enhancement of an already strong right-to-know law," Illinois EPA Dir. Doug Scott said.

The new law requires more detailed record keeping and provides stronger criminal sanctions if water suppliers fail to keep their customers in the loop.

"If you lie to the Illinois EPA about toxic air or water pollution, you could go to jail," said Jack Darin of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.

Crestwood village officials have insisted that the water delivered to residents there was never unsafe. The well in question was phased out, and has now been permanently sealed.

U.S. EPA investigators are working a criminal investigation against Crestwood officials, and the attorney general's office has filed a civil suit.

The state EPA, meanwhile, because of the Crestwood issue, is changing one aspect of its water testing. There are more than 1,000 communities in Illinois that deliver water that they first purchase from someone else, another community or supplier. The EPA has always done its water quality testing at the supplier. Now, it will test at the distribution point.


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