Water Fight - NBC Chicago

Water Fight

Governor signs new law to toughen water contamination penalties



    Celebrate This Holiday Season in Lively St. Charles
    Crestwood residents, like all of us, took the safety of their drinking water for granted.

    Thanks again, Blago.

    A local village provided contaminated water to its residents, even though state investigators knew of the problem, and all because of a fight between the Blagojevich administration and the state EPA, according to a report in the Tribune.

    A frosty relationship between the Blagojevich administration and Attorney General Lisa Madigan led the state EPA, which the governor's office oversees, to cut its referrals of environmental cases to the AG's office.

    A Tribune investigation in April broke open the story about Crestwood's use of contaminated well water, but the state EPA knew of the problem in 2007. Instead of asking the attorney general to investigate, state officials tried to handle the problem informally, allowing the village to avoid any penalties that would draw unwanted attention, the paper reported.

    The Epa didn't keep the AG's office informed, and didn't tell the citizens they were drinking contaminated water -- for two decades. Crestwood residents didn't even know there was a problem until the Trib published its investigation and Gov. Quinn ordered a review of the case.

    Village officials knew about the contamination in the well since 1986, when the EPA told them not to use it as a source for public water, according to public records.  It was only in December 2007, after the EPA tested the city's water again, that the well was disconnected from the city's water supply, according to the town's mayor.

    After the Trib's story broke earlier this year, the public outcry resulted in an investigation by the attorney general, and ultimately by the U.S. EPA, which is now looking into possible criminal charges against Crestwood officials.

    But the state EPA says it hasn't fallen down on the job, and you shouldn't worry about how well they're responding to environmental issues. State officials feel Crestwood was an unusual case because city officials were lying to state investigators, Illinois EPA director Doug Scott told the Tribune.

    Scott was also the EPA director under Blagojevich, and much of the infighting took place on his watch.  And after the Trib's article, Dan Hynes, who's running for governor, called on Gov. Pat Quinn to fire Scott.

    Gov. Pat Quinn's administration is working to rebuild the EPA's relationship with the attorney general. On Sunday, Quinn signed into law a bill to make sure that Illinois residents are informed of any future problems with their water, and such incidents are quickly investigated.  The new law provides criminal and monetary penalties for lying about contamination or failing to tell residents about it.

    Quinn, who elected to keep Scott on as head of the EPA, has not asked him to step down.