Right-to-Know Legislation Better Informs Illinois Citizens

In recent years, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA or Agency) has become aware of contamination in the environment in certain areas of the state that threatens the safety of drinking water supplies from groundwater sources. Experience from working on multiple sites where commonly used commercial and industrial solvents migrated into the groundwater from soil contamination highlighted the need for early notification to nearby private well owners so individuals can test their water and make important decisions that may impact their families’ health.

The law may be found in the Environmental Protection Act at 415 ILCS 5/25d-1 – 25d-10 (P.A. 94-314). The law mandates that the Illinois EPA give timely notification to Illinois citizens about contamination in soil or groundwater that may threaten public health. This is specifically in reference to contamination that originates from permitted facilities or other sites in Illinois EPA programs, and the contamination is measured or modeled to pose an off-site threat of exposure to the public. In certain circumstances, responsible parties or remedial applicants may be allowed to issue the notification as part of Agency-approved community relations activities.

With input from citizens and business, Illinois EPA has developed regulations to implement the law that were approved by the Illinois Pollution Control Board (Board). The regulations, at 35 Ill. Adm. Code 1600, describe requirements for identifying drinking water wells in an area of concern and for performing community relations activities to notify and establish communication with the public who may be affected by contamination.

What is the process for this notification?

Illinois EPA developed a plan to review and prioritize existing permitted facilities and cleanup sites to which the law applies. New sites are being screened as they enter a program and information becomes available.

Depending upon the nature and extent of the release, and taking into account notification and community relations work that has already been done, Illinois EPA will offer the responsible party or remedial applicant performing the cleanup an opportunity to make the notification. The Illinois EPA will review and approve the outreach plan and method of notification as well as the notification itself. If the party declines to do so, the Agency will make the notification.

What form will the notice take?

The notification may take different forms based on site-specific circumstances and use of the best available methods to reach the intended audience. Usually, the notification that will be mailed to individual residents will include a cover letter and a fact sheet about the specific site of concern. Also, it may be in the form of a public notice or news release to a local newspaper. The notifications will be posted.

Is the Illinois Department of Public Health involved in these notifications?

Yes. Illinois EPA will confer with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) in each situation where there is concern for potential health impacts to Illinois citizens. Illinois EPA will also work closely with county and local health departments that wish to be involved in the notification process and in the dialogue with the interested public.

How far do the notifications extend from a given site?

Notifications will be given to owners of private wells that are within 200 feet of any measured or modeled groundwater contamination from a given site. Notification will also be given to property owners where soil contamination from a site has been identified above state health-based cleanup values. In addition, persons or facilities within 1000 feet of a contaminated site with an interest in knowing more about the situation may be included in a notification (e.g., nursing home or school administrator).

How is this notification better than what the Agency did in the past?

Prior to the new law, the Agency attempted to keep citizens advised about known contamination from certain types of sites where community relations activities were required or needed based on citizen concerns or interest. Many clean up sites did not fall into these categories, and the responsible party or remedial applicant performed community relations work on their own initiative, if at all.

The current notification process will include more types of sites and will notify nearby residents in a timely manner about threats from soil or groundwater contamination. The goal is for citizens to be in a position to make informed decisions to avoid or minimize exposure to contamination from environmental sources.

New Internet geographic information system (GIS) tools, combined with an Agency evaluation process for screening threats to off-site water wells, are now in place to help identify sites where notification is needed.

Will someone test my well for contamination?

Not necessarily. The new law requires notification to well owners about potential contamination threats but does not provide resources for testing. In certain circumstances, the Agency may request that a responsible party perform well testing with state oversight, using standard procedures and a certified laboratory. If the Agency is conducting a source investigation, it is possible that some private wells in an area of concern may be sampled to determine the nature and extent of contamination.

How are private wells identified so that well owners can be notified?

The Illinois Department of Public Health, U. S. and Illinois State Geological Surveys, and Illinois State Water Survey have assisted Illinois EPA in developing an inventory of private wells and public water systems (including non-community wells). This information may be viewed and accessed through an easy-to-use Internet GIS by state agency staff, local health departments and consultants for business that are approved for such access. While this website will not show every private well, it is a good indicator that private wells are located in a given area and establishes a need to notify, if contamination is identified in that area.

What if the contamination of concern is just soil contamination?

If Illinois EPA determines that uncontrolled, off-site soil contamination, at levels greater than state health-based cleanup values, poses a threat to residents near a site, notification will occur. Additionally, if the soil contamination is the type that can migrate to groundwater, notification will be provided to private well users in the area whose wells are potentially threatened.

Illinois EPA is also concerned about the potential for contaminant vapors (from groundwater or soil contamination) that could migrate into residents’ homes and will notify residents of such a threat.

What information do the regulations cover?

The regulations establish requirements for how to perform satisfactory well surveys and community relations activities to notify the public and establish an ongoing dialogue about environmental contamination. New regulations also were adopted by the Illinois EPA to provide for recovery of costs from responsible parties if the Agency performs the notification process.  Look under Subtitle O, Chapter I, Part 1600 and Chapter II, Part 1662.

For more information, you may contact:

Dean Studer , Illinois EPA

Community Relations Coordinator

1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19276

Springfield, Illinois 62702

(217) 588-8280

Links for more information:

Performing Well Surveys – A fact sheet developed by Illinois EPA