Round Lake residents wait for Baxter Healthcare action to clean up Long Lake

 
 
Updated 1/23/2017 5:09 PM
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  • Paige Fitton with the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group is concerned about the water quality of the lake, partly due to alleged contamination by nearby Baxter Healthcare.

      Paige Fitton with the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group is concerned about the water quality of the lake, partly due to alleged contamination by nearby Baxter Healthcare. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Paige Fitton with Stop Pollution in Long Lake group and the T-shirts they made to bring attention to the problem.

      Paige Fitton with Stop Pollution in Long Lake group and the T-shirts they made to bring attention to the problem. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

A Round Lake neighborhood group is awaiting a decision by state authorities that could resolve the pollution of Long Lake.

Stop Pollution in Long Lake, or SPILL, has been at odds since at least 2000 with Baxter Healthcare's facility, at Route 120 and Wilson Road in Round Lake, regarding the murky changes in the lake and unknown effects of contaminants on wildlife.

A possible solution could have the company connecting to the local sewer system to eliminate the wastewater discharges that lead into the lake. The discharges often exceed the company's permit, a limit that is standard for all companies, authorities said.

"We want a commitment to connection (to the sewer), to have a binding agreement in place. And as we have heard from the local sanitary districts, Baxter Healthcare has investigated pricing but it has not contacted the sanitary districts to actually make a connection agreement and put a construction plan in place," said SPILL spokeswoman Paige Fitton, 47, who grew up by the lake, now lives in Elgin and owns property on the east shore of the lake.

Paige Fitton with the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group, right, looks out over Long Lake with her father, Tom Cooper, and stepmother Judy, at the Coopers home.
  Paige Fitton with the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group, right, looks out over Long Lake with her father, Tom Cooper, and stepmother Judy, at the Coopers home. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Her father continues to live there in a home that his grandfather built in 1906. Her family continues to visit the lake every summer weekend to sail in Long Lake Yacht Club races. Other families have had property since the 1860s around the beloved lake, which is 2 miles north of Baxter Healthcare along Wilson Road.

Delays in providing penalties or resolutions to the long-standing pollution have frustrated these families. The group sent letters to state agencies and to Baxter Healthcare and received responses, but no action.

In September, SPILL filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board about the poor water quality of the lake.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which is aware of the SPILL complaint, had just issued a violation notice to Baxter in August.

Since then, the IEPA has been working with the company on an agreement to resolve the violations, said IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs.

The violations involved exceeding their discharge permit for Biochemical Oxygen Demand, or the amount of dissolved oxygen that must be in the water so microorganisms can decompose the organic matter, and for Total Suspended Solids, or particles trapped by a filter and used as guide on the wastewater's quality after treatment in a wastewater treatment plant.

The Stop Pollution in Long Lake group says that Baxter Healthcare, at Route 120 and Wilson Road in Lake County, is a reason for the pollution in Long Lake.
  The Stop Pollution in Long Lake group says that Baxter Healthcare, at Route 120 and Wilson Road in Lake County, is a reason for the pollution in Long Lake. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Baxter Healthcare, part of Deerfield-based Baxter International, has research-and-development teams for hospital products and manufacturing operations in Round Lake. The company could not provide a timeline when either the agreement with the IEPA or the connection to the sewer system would happen.

"The company has invested more than $1 million in treatment plant improvements over the past two years, and we remain committed to looking at all options for wastewater discharge, including connecting to the municipal sewer system," said Baxter spokesman John O'Malley.

Over the years, Baxter said it has monitored the discharges and notified the IEPA if discharges exceeded its permit, according to O'Malley.

But time is running short, Fitton said.

Members of the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group say pollution passes through this drainage system under Main Street in Long Lake.
  Members of the Stop Pollution in Long Lake group say pollution passes through this drainage system under Main Street in Long Lake. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

The company's discharging permit is up for renewal in 2018, and that leaves roughly 17 months to develop a plan to stop its own water treatment and connect to the local sewer system, Fitton said.

"Basically if we don't see them putting a plan in place to connect and build the connection line, then we have to believe they are choosing to renew and/or extend the permit, because how else would they manage their wastewater come June 2018?" Fitton added.

SPILL believes that as Baxter Healthcare does its cost-risk analysis regarding the sewer connection, the company needs to "weigh the risks to our environment and to the residents of our lake who want to enjoy the lake, not simply the costs of doing business and the risks of getting caught with (exceeding their) permit," Fitton said.

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