Rep. Bustos Announces Watchdog Task Force to Investigate Lead Levels in Illinois’ 17th District and Develop Solutions

WASHINGTON – In a floor speech delivered today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos announced the launch of a watchdog task force in her office to investigate lead levels throughout Illinois’ 17th District, investigate problems of lead contamination and work with government officials at all levels to develop solutions. Bustos made this announcement in a floor speech where she also addressed the importance of working collaboratively to address the challenge of lead contamination.

“Whether you’re a mayor, an alderman or a member of Congress, it’s the job of all elected officials to be problem solvers for the families we serve,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. “For almost 25 years, the city of Galesburg has had a problem. For the majority of water tests conducted since 1992, the samples have had lead content exceeding the federal action level. And in the most recent health report, we learned that more than 14 percent of children tested in Knox County had high lead levels in their small bodies. When there’s a serious problem, leaders come together to solve it. They don’t point fingers, and they certainly don’t deny facts. Government officials at all levels have a responsibility to work constructively to solve this problem and protect our children. This is why I’ve assigned a watchdog task force in my office to investigate lead contamination throughout our congressional district and to work with government officials at all levels to develop comprehensive solutions. We need to work together to solve this problem. Because that’s what leaders do.”

Bustos also spoke briefly on the floor of the House today to discuss the importance of sticking to the facts and working together to address the problem of lead contamination at all levels. You can click here for the video:


Fact #1: According to the Illinois Lead Program’s 2014 Annual Surveillance Report, more than 14 percent of the children in Knox County who were given blood tests had lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the point at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends public health actions be initiated.

Fact #2: In the majority of compliance tests performed since 1992, Galesburg’s water has exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead content. Their most recent test, concluded in December 2015, showed the 90th percentile of the samples was a lead level of 22 ppb. While there were modest improvements between 2005 and 2012, this has been a persistent and recurring problem. In the seven monitoring periods that reported less than 15 ppb, Galesburg’s water tested at 14 ppb (end date of 6/30/05), 14 ppb (6/30/07), 12 ppb (6/30/09), 14 ppb (6/30/10), 13 ppb (12/31/10), 10 ppb (12/31/11) and 14 ppb (12/31/12). These are the only tests on record under 15 ppb- the other 22 tests had 90th percentile tests at 15 ppb or higher.

Fact #3: According to the City of Galesburg, there are approximately 4,700 lead service lines providing water to homes across the city. This represents nearly one third of all private service lines in the city.

Fact #4: As of today, there has not been a proven causation link established between the blood levels of children in Knox County and the elevated lead levels in Galesburg’s water. However, identifying the potential sources of lead exposure, including the water, is absolutely merited given the long-term effects lead contamination can have on children and pregnant women. A closer examination of this issue is one of the many reasons why Congresswoman Bustos requested that the U.S. EPA get involved in Galesburg.

Lead pipes as a possible source of lead contamination:

  • The World Health Organization: “Exposure to lead causes a variety of health effects, and affects children in particular. Water is rarely an important source of lead exposure except where lead pipes, for instance in old buildings, are common. Removal of old pipes is costly but the most effective measure to reduce lead exposure from water.”
  • CDC: “High levels of lead in tap water can cause health effects if the lead in the water enters the bloodstream and causes an elevated blood lead level. Most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults, even exposure to water with a lead content close to the EPA action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Risk will vary, however, depending on the individual, the circumstances, and the amount of water consumed. For example, infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size.”

Medical impact of lead:

  • CDC: “Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.”

Background on other recent actions Bustos has taken:

April 8, 2016: Bustos met with Galesburg City officials and the Knox County Health Department to hear their perspective and plan to address this problem.

April 12, 2016: Bustos wrote Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard a follow up letter requesting additional data from the city to ensure that affected families in Galesburg have access to all of the information possible. Bustos’ request resulted in the city producing a map of the 4,700 lead service lines in Galesburg.

April 13, 2016: Bustos wrote an op-ed in the Galesburg Register-Mail expressing her alarm and demanding action to protect the families of Galesburg. That same day, she gave a speech on the Floor of the House continuing her push to achieve a long-term solution to the problem of elevated lead levels in Galesburg’s water.

April 14, 2016: Bustos formally requested that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency begin the process of examining the situation in Galesburg for possible action. You can also click here to read a copy of her letter.

April 21, 2016: Bustos announces that she has assigned a watchdog task force in her office to examine the issue of lead contamination across the district and work with government officials at all levels to develop solutions.