SPRINGFIELD— Illinois Environmental Protection Agency director Doug Scott and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) director Dr. Damon T. Arnold today announced the launch of the Safe Well Water Initiative 2009 to increase private well owner awareness of the need and responsibility for regular testing of drinking water.
Illinois EPA and IDPH are partnering to help inform private well owners in Illinois of the need to have regular testing for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other contaminants that may have historically contaminated groundwater sources. The agencies have become increasingly aware of groundwater contamination that could have affected private drinking water wells.
As part of this initiative, the agencies are distributing fact sheets, well testing instructional brochures and other documents via e-mail to numerous government and professional groups for distribution to their members and to the general public. The purpose of the effort is to ensure that citizens across our state who obtain drinking water from an estimated 400,000 private wells do not have a potential health risk from contamination.
Under this new joint initiative, we will be focusing efforts on the need for testing for VOCs. In recent years, VOCs are increasingly being found in groundwater in many areas of our state, and across the nation, as a result of the breakdown of cleaning solvents and fuels such as gasoline that were historically associated with sources such as gas stations, dry cleaners, auto and boat engine repair shops, printing shops, and metal parts fabrication facilities. Common management practices before environmental regulation of the storage, use and disposal of solvents included dumping them on the ground after use, and often resulted in accidental release of solvents and gasoline products from storage containers.
Over time, solvents and gasoline-related chemicals slowly make their way into groundwater and move with groundwater. Consequently, the contaminants may affect private wells that are near locations of historical spills or releases. Most VOC contamination cannot be detected by odor, taste or visual appearance. The only way to know whether your well water is safe is by testing it.
In 2005, IEPA and IDPH joined together on a private well water education initiative that focused on testing for bacteria, nitrate, radium and arsenic, and other contaminants. With this expanded initiative, the Illinois EPA and IDPH encourage private well owners to learn as much as possible about these chemical threats to safe drinking water and to have their well water tested. Talk with your local/county health department or the nearest IDPH regional office for advice on what to test for, depending on where you live.
The Illinois EPA has posted several helpful documents in its web site: www.epa.state.il.us, including instructions on private well testing, the reasons that groundwater becomes contaminated, and information in Illinois’ Right to Know laws that keep the public informed about their public and private drinking water sources. The Agency will also provide postings required by the recently signed Public Act 4021, which requires that a press release be posted when the Agency refers a public water supply for enforcement or sends a violation notice reporting that a groundwater supply poses a public health threat, or a public water supply operator submits fraudulent information to the Agency.