1. Is the wastewater operator certification program mandatory or voluntary?
  2. How are wastewater treatment facilities classified in Illinois?
  3. What are the wastewater operator certification levels available in Illinois?
  4. What are the eligibility requirements for each certification level?
  5. Are there any substitutions that can be used to help satisfy the eligibility requirements?
  6. What is a wastewater operator?
  7. What is wastewater operating experience?
  8. What does NOT count as hands-on wastewater operating experience?
  9. What is related experience?
  10. What is a wastewater course?
  11. How is credit applied if my job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience?
  12. How many hours per week must be worked to be considered full-time and/or part-time?
  13. How often and where are wastewater examinations offered?
  14. How do I obtain wastewater certification?
  15. To become certified at a particular level, must I work up to that level by passing the examinations for all of the lower certification levels?
  16. If I am eligible for two different Class levels (ie. Class 2 and Class 1), can I take an exam for each Class level at the same time?
  17. How many questions are on each exam?
  18. If I fail an examination, how long must I wait to retake it?
  19. Can I schedule to take an examination for the same certification level on more than one examination date?
  20. Can I just show up at an examination site and take an examination?
  21. Can I take a certification examination before I meet the eligibility requirements for that certification level?
  22. Can an individual with an Operator-In-Training certificate be considered as the properly certified operator for a wastewater treatment facility?
  23. Does the properly certified wastewater operator need to be present at the wastewater treatment facility all the time that it is in operation?
  24. What is the difference between the general Class K-WR and the facility-specific Class K certificates?
  25. If I hold a municipal certification, such as a Class 1, can I operate an industrial facility without taking a Class K exam?
  26. Do I need to notify the Agency if I change my name or home address, or if I begin or terminate employment with a wastewater treatment works facility?
  27. How long is a wastewater certificate in effect? Do wastewater certificates have to be renewed?
  28. Are there any fees associated with wastewater operator certification?
  29. Is there any continuing education requirement associated with wastewater operator certification
  30. Does Illinois have reciprocity with wastewater certifying authorities from any other states?
  31. Can the Agency "discipline" wastewater operators?
  32. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is suspended?
  33. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is revoked?

1. Is the wastewater operator certification program mandatory or voluntary?

The wastewater operator certification program is a mandatory program. This means that each wastewater treatment facility in Illinois is required to be operated by a wastewater operator who is certified at or above the certification level required for the treatment facility. However, a voluntary certification program for collection system operators has been implemented. Since this is a voluntary program, it means that a certified collection system operator is not required to operate a collection system, although it is strongly recommended by the Agency.

2. How are wastewater treatment facilities classified in Illinois?

Wastewater treatment facilities are classified as either domestic or industrial facilities.

Municipal wastewater treatment facilities are classified in one of four groups as follows:

  • Group 4: Lagoon treatment systems. Group 4 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 4 or higher level (Class 3, Class 2, or Class 1).
  • Group 3: Fixed film processes and Imhoff tank systems with a design average flow (DAF) of less than 1.0 MGD, and all primary treatment systems. Group 3 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 3 or higher level (Class 2, or Class 1).
  • Group 2: Activated sludge systems with a design average flow (DAF) of less than 1.0 MGD. Group 2 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 2 or higher level (Class1).
  • Group 1: All domestic wastewater treatment systems 1.0 MGD DAF or more, excluding lagoon systems and primary treatment systems. Group 1 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 1 level.
  • Group K: Industrial wastewater treatment facilities require Class K certified wastewater operators. Group K facilities shall consist of industrial wastewater treatment works, pretreatment works, domestic wastewater treatment works owned and operated by industries, and spray irrigation that is collected and discharged.

3. What are the wastewater operator certification levels available in Illinois?

Municipal:Class 4 (lowest level)
Class 3
Class 2
Class 1 (highest level)
Industrial:Class K - Facility-Specific
Class R - General (Water Remediation)
Collection System Operator

4. What are the eligibility requirements for each certification level?

Class 4

1 year wastewater operating experience
Class 32 years of wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class 24 years of wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class 16 years of wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class K or RActive supervision and/or operation of an industrial wastewater treatment facility
Collection System Operator
1 year collection system operating experience and high school education or equivalent

5. Are there any substitutions that can be used to help satisfy the eligibility requirements?

Yes, for the Class 3, Class 2, and Class 1 certification levels, up to 50% of the total requirement may be combined credit received for completed wastewater courses, college credits, and collection system, public water supply operating experience, or wastewater laboratory experience.

6. What is a wastewater operator?

A wastewater operator is a person who regularly makes recommendations or is responsible for process control decisions at a wastewater treatment facility. The term does not apply to persons whose duties are limited solely to laboratory testing or maintenance.

7. What is wastewater operating experience?

Wastewater operating experience is time spent performing the hands-on operational duties of a wastewater treatment works operator, which includes direct hands-on physical operation of wastewater treatment equipment and/or wastewater treatment processes, direct active field supervision of wastewater treatment equipment and/or wastewater treatment processes, and/or direct and active involvement in process control decisions for wastewater treatment processes.

8. What does NOT count as hands-on wastewater operating experience?

Public works, street maintenance, meter reading, operating a Vactor truck, sludge hauling/handling and/or application, janitorial, grounds keeping, collection systems and/or drinking water operations, laboratory testing, electrical and/or maintenance mechanic work.

9. What is related experience?

Related experience is experience operating collection systems, drinking water supplies, and laboratory or maintenance experience at a wastewater treatment facility. Partial credit toward eligibility will be given once hands-on wastewater operating experience is obtained.

10. What is a wastewater course?

A wastewater course is defined as a course consisting of 3 quarter hours, or 2 semester hours, or 30 contact hours, or 3.0 continuing education units (CEUs) and must cover one or more aspects of wastewater treatment such as wastewater collection, treatment, operations, maintenance, or management from an accredited college, university, or technical vocational and trade school that is approved by the Agency. Training events that meet this definition will receive 3 months of credit toward the certification eligibility requirements. Training events which do not meet this definition will receive credit at the same rate as college/university courses.

The amount of credit that may be given for wastewater courses is dependent on the level of certification being sought. The maximum credit for wastewater courses per certification level is given below. Any wastewater courses which cannot be credited at the 3 month rate will be credited at the same rate as college university courses.

Certification Level

Maximum Credit for Wastewater Courses
Class 124 months (8 wastewater courses)
Class 212 months (4 wastewater courses)
Class 36 months (2 wastewater courses)
Class 43 months (1 wastewater course)

11. How is credit applied if my job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience?

If your job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience, credit is assessed based on the percentage of time spent performing each type of duties. If 50% or more of time at work is classified as wastewater operating experience, full credit is given for wastewater operating experience and zero credit is given for related experience. If less than 50% of time at work is classified as wastewater operating experience, half credit is given for wastewater operating experience and half credit is given for related experience.

12. How many hours per week must be worked to be considered full-time and/or part-time?

30 hours or more per week is considered full-time employment and may be given full credit toward eligibility determination. Less than 30 hours per week is considered part-time employment and may be given partial credit toward eligibility determination. Less than 30 hours but greater than 10 hours per week may be given 50% credit toward eligibility determination. If the number of hours worked is 10 hours or less per week, then only 25% credit toward eligibility determination will be given.

13. How often and where are wastewater examinations offered?

Examinations are offered every month at three sites around the state. At times, additional special exams may be offered at conferences. Please check the Illinois EPA website for the current examination calendar.

14. How do I obtain wastewater certification?

The necessary steps to become certified are:

  • Submit a completed examination request form to the wastewater Operator Certification Unit. Examination request forms are available from the Operator Certification Unit or online. The examination request form is reviewed and the applicant is sent either an examination admittance letter or a letter indicating the eligibility shortfall.
  • If a passing score of 70 or more is obtained on the examination, notification to the applicant that they are now designated as an Operator in Training will be mae at the certification exam level they passed. This notification will also contain a request for an application to be made. On receipt of the application, the Agency will make a determination if the applicant meets the eligibility requirements of the class level they passed. If eligibility requirements are met, then the applicant will be notified that they are certified at that level. If eligibility requirements are not met, notification as for the cause of ineligibility will be provided.

15. To become certified at a particular level, must I work up to that level by passing the examinations for all of the lower certification levels?

No, you may take any examination. You do not have to pass the lower level examinations first.

16. If I am eligible for two different Class levels (i.e., Class 2 and Class 1), can I take two exams at the same time?

No, you are allowed a maximum of three hours to complete the exam. Currently there are 100 questions per exam. To ensure there is adequate time to complete the exam without rushing through the questions, only one exam can be taken at a time.

17. How many questions are on each exam?

Currently the Collection Systems, the Class 4, Class 3, Class 2 and the Class 1 exam have 100 questions each. The industrial Class K (facility-specific) exam has a total of 15 questions, 5 multiple choice and 10 short answer/essay. The industrial Class K-WR (general) exam has a total of 14 questions, 7 multiple choice and 7 short answer/essay.

18. If I fail an examination, how long must I wait to retake it?

There is no minimum period you must wait before you can retake an examination. You can complete and submit a new examination request form once you have received notification that you did not pass.

19. Can I schedule to take an examination for the same certification level on more than one examination date?

No, you may only schedule one examination date and location at a time. The number of examinees that can be accommodated at each examination site is limited and if an individual schedules for more than one examination, it denies someone else the opportunity to take an examination.

If you are scheduled for an examination and after scheduling, find out you will not be able to attend as planned, you may contact the Operator Certification Unit to change your scheduled examination date.

20. Can I just show up at an examination site and take an examination?

No, each examination site will accommodate only a certain number of examinees.

All scheduling for examinations will be done on a first-come first-served basis through the Operator Certification Unit. If you show up at an examination site and your name is not on the exam roster and you don’t have an admittance letter, you will be turned away.

21. Can I take a certification examination before I meet the eligibility requirements for that certification level?

Yes, complete an examination request form.

22. Can an individual with an Operator-In-Training certificate be considered as the properly certified operator for a wastewater treatment facility?

No, the properly certified operator for a particular wastewater treatment facility must be certified at a level equal to or higher than the certification level required for that facility. An Operator-In-Training certificate does not meet this requirement.

23. Does the properly certified wastewater operator need to be present at the wastewater treatment facility all the time that it is in operation?

The properly certified operator must exercise direct and active field supervision of the wastewater treatment facility. Situations will dictate whether or not the physical presence of the properly certified operator is required on site. However, in all situations, it is expected that the properly certified operator has sufficient knowledge of the treatment facility to handle any situation expeditiously and correctly.

24. What is the difference between the general Class R and the facility-specific Class K certificates?

The general Class R certificate, also referred to as a Water Remediation Operator, is intended only for treatment or pretreatment facilities which treat groundwater contaminated with gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and/or kerosene. Most of these facilities are associated with entities which store petroleum fuels underground, such as gas stations. The main treatment process involved is either air stripping or activated carbon canister. Facilities treating groundwater contaminated with other substances, such as solvents, require facility-specific Class K certification. An operator who holds Class R certification may operate any treatment or pretreatment facility in Illinois which treats groundwater contaminated with gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and/or kerosene.

A facility-specific Class K certificate, as the name implies, is issued for the operation of the specific industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility for which the operator wrote the examination. An operator, with a facility-specific Class K certificate, who leaves the facility in which he is certified, to operate another industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility, must apply for and pass the Class K examination for the second industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility in order to be properly certified for the second facility. In addition, an operator who holds a facility-specific Class K industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility which is upgraded to include additional and/or different treatment processes than the original facility must apply for and pass the Class K examination for the upgraded industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility in order to be properly certified for the upgraded facility.

25. If I hold a municipal certification, such as a Class 1, can I operate an industrial facility without taking a Class K exam?

No, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment works have different operating requirements which are spelled out in the operating and discharge permits held by the facilities. Industrial facilities require a facility-specific Class K operator certified for operations at that specific facility. (See Item #24 above.)

26. Do I need to notify the Agency if I change my name or home address, or if I begin or terminate employment with a wastewater treatment works facility?

Yes, whenever a certified operator begins or terminates employment with a wastewater treatment works or pretreatment works, the employee/operator and the owner of the facility must notify the Agency of any changes in writing within 7 days. An operator must notify the Agency within 30 days of any change in name and/or home address.

The Change in Personnel Notification Form should be used to notify the Agency of these changes.

27. How long is a wastewater certificate in effect? Do wastewater certificates have to be renewed?

Beginning on July 1, 2020, Class 1 and Class 2 certifications will be issues with the expiration date being three years from July 1 of the calendar year in which the certificate was issued. Class 1 and Class 2 certifications issued before July 1, 2020 will expire on July 1, 2023.

Beginning on July 1, 2019, Class 3 and Class 4 certifications will be issued with the expiration date being three years from July 1 of the calendar year in which the certificate was issued. Class 3 and Class 4 certifications issued before July 1, 2019 will expire on July 22, 2022.

28. Are there any fees associated with wastewater operator certification?

There are no fees associated with wastewater operator certification at the present time. However, this does not preclude the institution of wastewater certification fees at some point in the future.

29. Is there any continuing education requirement associated with wastewater operator certification?

Yes, Class 1 and Class 2 certified operators must complete and document 30 hours of training during the three-year period before expiration date; a minimum of twenty hours of training must relate to the technical aspects of wastewater treatment. Class 3 and Class 4 certified operators must complete and document fifteen hours of training during the period before certification expiration date; a minimum of ten hours of training must relate to the technical aspects of wastewater treatment and operations.

30. Does Illinois have reciprocity with wastewater certifying authorities from any other states?

Yes, depending on the reciprocal state. The certifying state’s rules and regulations, in conjunction with an individual’s education and employment qualifications, are used to determine the specific Illinois certificate that can be issued. It should be noted that, due to the uniqueness of Illinois’ industrial certification program, it is not possible to consider issuing Class K certificates by reciprocity. Collection system certification is also not considered through reciprocity as it is a voluntary certification.

31. Can the Agency "discipline" wastewater operators?

Yes, the Agency can "discipline" wastewater operators through the certificate sanction process. Potential causes for sanctions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Obtaining or attempting to obtain certification by fraud or deceit.
  • Gross negligence or gross misconduct in the operation of a wastewater treatment facility or pretreatment facility.
  • Falsification of records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful failure to maintain records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful non-submission of records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful violation of the Environmental Protection Act or any rules that are promulgated under it.
  • A final judgment in a civil action or a conviction in a criminal action that an operator has performed any of the acts listed above.

Sanctions include, but are not limited to, prohibition of application for certification, probation, suspension, and revocation.

32. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is suspended?

A suspended wastewater certificate is considered invalid during the suspension period. A certificate may be suspended for a period of up to 18 months. Experience obtained during the suspension period will not be considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements. At the end of the suspension period, the certificate is again considered valid. Experience obtained after the suspension is lifted will be considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements.

33. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is revoked?

A revoked certificate is considered invalid. The operator may not reapply for any certificate for a period of not less than 18 months and not more than 4 years. Experience obtained during the revocation is not considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements. At the end of the revocation period, an operator must apply for and pass the certification examination for the desired level of certification to become certified as a wastewater operator again.