Legislators approve statewide water quality study

Spurred by reports that more than two-thirds of suburban drinking water systems recorded some levels of lead over the past three years, state legislators approved a request to have the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency compile a comprehensive statewide water quality report.

The joint resolution was a bipartisan effort from two suburban legislators - state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, and Villa Park Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton. The resolution received only one "no" vote.

Because it is a resolution, the measure does not require Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature.

The IEPA is charged with monitoring the safety and testing of drinking water systems throughout the state. The resolution seeks a full report on lead levels by the end of the year. Agency officials did not respond to calls for comment about the resolution's passage.

"I'm proud that Sen. Tom Cullerton and I were able to receive bipartisan support for our legislation," McSweeney said. "The IEPA has assured me that they'll meet the aggressive reporting timetable required in the resolution."

Public drinking water systems are tested every three years for lead levels. The number of samples tested depends on the population served by the system, but usually is between 30 and 50.

While health officials have said no level of lead is safe, sample results don't trigger violations until more than 10 percent of the samples come back with levels in excess of 15 parts per billion in a liter of water.

A Daily Herald analysis of 172 suburban water systems in 89 suburbs earlier this year showed 70 percent of the 2,967 samples taken over the past three years had some recordable level of lead. In at least three instances, the samples contained levels in excess of 100 parts per billion.

The investigation into suburban water system testing was spurred by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, that saw some tap water samples record lead levels as high as 13,000 parts per billion.

"Public health is one of the most important things the legislature is responsible for," Cullerton said. "When we don't take that responsibility seriously, people get dramatically affected."

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