By Richard S. Gubbe
A press release from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) was issued last week and revealed that four wells on Rockford’s west side were found to have high levels of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in their water.
“Benzene contamination and other chemicals typically found in fuels such as gasoline were discovered in private wells in June 2011 on Soper Avenue and Alliance Avenue north of Auburn Street and west of Central Avenue in the northwest portion of Rockford,” the release stated.
The IEPA release said the Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) worked together to collect samples from private wells in the area on three occasions during June, August and September after being informed of fuel-like odors from private well water. The IEPA originally notified The Rock River Times that the agency would collect water samples independently of the WCDH and IDPH for the last round of samples.
In an e-mail sent after the release, IEPA Spokesman Maggie Carson clarified the press release further and stated: “Our tests were independent, using IEPA labs. The Health Depts. took the first sets of samples. IEPA later collected some as well.”
Benzene concentrations in four of the wells tested along Soper and Alliance avenues west of the Amerock plant were greater than the recommended comparison value for safe drinking water.
“Illinois EPA is taking seriously the concerns expressed by area residents and is investigating potential waste storage ponds and other areas on/near the former cabinet hardware manufacturer property to the east of the residential areas,” the IEPA release said. “The step-wise, scientific investigation plan regarding allegations of hazardous waste dumping will be similar to the actions listed above. Illinois EPA currently has no information linking benzene use to facility processes. There could be other sources for waste dumped in this area in the past — prior to current environmental regulations.”
The IEPA release also stated: “Illinois EPA plans to use a geoprobe, which is a type of drilling equipment mounted on a small truck, to find out more about the groundwater. The Agency will take water levels across several blocks to determine the flow direction of groundwater. In addition, water samples will be taken to analyze for the fuel-related contamination to further define the extent of contamination.”
Contaminants discovered in some private wells are from a family of chemicals known as VOCs that are commonly found in fuels such as gasoline, diesel and home heating fuel. The most recent set of well water samples was taken Sept. 14. Twenty-five wells have been tested in all, some more than once.
Also included in the release was the following statement: “The state and county health departments’ primary role is to insure that people who have private wells are aware of the risks associated with using the groundwater. The two agencies have been interpreting private well test results the past three months and explaining to well users any potential health implications. Illinois EPA’s role is to investigate the source or sources of the groundwater contamination to determine whether the source or sources can be cleaned up or effectively stopped from contributing to groundwater contamination. The agencies are working together to determine the extent of any risk to public health and the source(s) of the contamination.”
Exposure to benzene at the levels found in the area of the private wells over long periods of time may lead to disorders of the blood and bone marrow system, such as anemia. They also may increase the lifetime risk of cancer.
The IEPA release stated that “Recent sampling results from 10 private wells in the area included samples from four homes that had not been tested before. In four wells, benzene was detected at levels greater than the MCL (maximum contaminant levels) comparison value. IDPH has contacted those well owners and provided guidance about well water use.”
As for other heavy metals the IEPA said were tested, the release stated: “Five private well samples in the two-block area were also analyzed for the presence of certain metals and other contaminants that would be expected in waste from metal plating operations done at the former Amerock facility. None of that type of contamination was found in the well water.”
Wells that the IEPA said showed no VOC contamination were located on Bond, North Day, North Greenview, North Johnston, North Willard and some of the homes tested on Soper and Alliance avenues.
The IDPH recommended that if residents detect an odor of fuels or solvents in their drinking water they should contact the IDPH Rockford Regional Office at (815) 987-7511.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue