Rep. Bustos Releases U.S. EPA Letter that Recommends Action in Galesburg

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos received a copy of a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that recommended several of the proposed actions which the City of Galesburg is now considering following last night’s City Council meeting. The letter, dated April 20, 2016, recommends that the City provide bottled water or NSF certified point of use lead filtration devices for homes where the water exceeds the federal action level for lead content of 15 parts per billion (ppb). It also recommends that all consumers who request a water test be able to receive one at no charge. During last night’s meeting, city officials estimated that water tests would cost the city about $12 each and discussed the possibility of taking several of these actions.

“I was pleased to learn that the City of Galesburg is now considering several of the options proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assist families whose water is exceeding the federal action level for lead content,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. “We have an obligation to do everything in our power to protect our children from lead exposure and that means thoroughly examining all possible sources, whether it’s paint, dust or water. As I have stated throughout this process, I believe that transparency is critically important to solving this challenge. I look forward to working with the city to provide federal resources and expertise to support this effort so that we can work together to develop a long-term and comprehensive solution to the problem of lead exposure.”

Residents are urged to look up whether they have a lead service line here:

Bustos also published a clean drinking water resources page which includes information about how families can get their water tested.

You can read a copy of the April 20th U.S. EPA letter by clicking here or read the text below:

Dave McMillan

Division of Public Water Supplies

Bureau of Water

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

1021 North Grand Avenue East

P.O. Box 19276

Springfield, IL 62794

Dear Mr. McMillan

This letter summarizes the April 18, 2016 call Acting United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Regional Administrator, Robert Kaplan convened with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) Director, Lisa Bonnett on the issue of lead in the drinking water of Galesburg, Illinois. Also in attendance were representatives from USEPA and Illinois EPA Water Programs, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Governor’s Office.

USEPA is concerned about the elevated blood lead levels in Knox County and the need for alternate water for impacted Galesburg Residents. We are also concerned that Galesburg exceeded the lead action level in 2015, especially with their history of action level exceedances.

We believe that Galesburg should:

  • Provide bottled water or NSF certified point of use lead filtration devices for any homes exceeding the action level now and in the future.
  • Conduct regular (at least quarterly) public education, in addition to the public notification recently provided, to inform residents of the risk of lead, including the fact that the lead action level is not a health-based number, and how to reduce exposure to lead.
  • Provide consumers with the results of water testing for lead conducted in their homes.
  • Offer and pay for additional water testing for lead for all consumers who request it.
  • Complete a Corrosion Control Study to minimize the leaching of lead from pipes and plumbing.

We understand from Monday’s call that Illinois EPA and the Governor’s Office are reaching out to the Galesburg Mayor to urge the provision of bottled water to residents. We hope the State is successful in securing a commitment from the City to provide alternate water or filters to affected residents, otherwise we will consider other options to protect public health. In addition, we renew our request from yesterday’s call for the school sampling data.

In response to our offer of technical assistance from USEPA’s Office of Research and Development corrosion control experts, you provided us with data for our national experts in lead and distribution systems to review. Once they have reviewed the data we will get back to you with recommendations for Galesburg.

If you have any questions, please contact Tom Poy of my staff at (312) 886-5991. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Tinka G. Hyde,

Director, Water Division


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.

  • The “CDC recommends public health action be initiated” for any “children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter.”

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.