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Officials: Local water safe, despite new survey

Officials: Local water safe, despite new survey

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BLOOMINGTON — An environmental group says Illinois has contaminated drinking water, but local officials say our water is safe.

A survey by the Environmental Working Group released on Tuesday found Illinois ranked 10th on the list of states with the most contaminants in their drinking water. Most common among the chemicals found were disinfection byproducts, nitrates, chloroform, barium, arsenic and copper.

Reports for Bloomington and Normal show both water supplies are below — and in some cases well below — the maximum levels for chemicals and biological contaminants in the treated water. Water officials encourage residents to evaluate the reports for themselves.

"As water suppliers we are not trying to hide anything," said Bloomington water director Craig Cummings. "People have answers at their fingertips. They have a way of looking at their local water supply and knowing what is in it."

The reports are mandated as part of the federal Clean Water Act for public water supplies serving 10,000 or more customers.

Cummings said he is concerned the Environmental Working Group's report maybe just a scare tactic. Some of those chemicals, such as arsenic, occur in the water naturally, and others are the product of farm runoff, such as nitrates, Cummings said. Treatment methods can eliminate or reduce those chemicals to meet federal guidelines.

"There is a difference between an occurrence in the water and the level that it will affect someone's health," Cummings said.

"And the industry is trying to find a way to reduce the disinfection byproducts in the water, but without adding disinfection, such as chlorine, few people would be living longer than 21."

Normal water director Steve Gerdes said the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency does a good job of regulating the wide variety of water sources in the state and the treatment of the water. But he adds it's not always going to be perfect.

"The water supply in the United States is in much better shape than most of the water supplies in the rest of the world," Gerdes said. "It is very well regulated."

The Environmental Working Group, a research-and-advocacy organization, compiled findings from states data collected from 1998 to 2003. That data comes from nearly 40,000 water utilities, serving 231 million people. The utilities were required by federal law to report that data to consumers.

Benjamin Grumbles, who heads EPA's Office of Water, said that "for the chemicals the agency regulates, nearly 100 percent of the community water systems that provide drinking water to the majority of Americans are meeting clean drinking water standards. We also have a process to continuously identify new contaminants for which regulation could reduce risks."

Jane Houlihan, the Environmental Working Group vice president for research, said the group's findings show the United States allows millions of people to be exposed to some chemicals for which EPA either has never considered the risks or if it has, has no enforceable limits.

"So in many communities the water that comes out of the tap could be contaminated with scores of chemicals. People shouldn't be alarmed, but they should be concerned. Our system of public health protections isn't working in this case," Houlihan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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