Editor’s note: The following is a statement and list of concerns from a Sycamore-resident-led group called Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore, formed this year to address water quality within the city amid complaints of foul odors and lead levels.
Statement on lead levels
"Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore was formed this year to originally address the quality of the water in our city. Through independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified testing laboratories, results from committee members are coming back with high levels of lead.
We are working closely with the City Council, Public Works, and Water Treatment Facilities to investigate, address, and correct these concerns expeditiously.
According to the EPA, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) defines water contamination quite broadly. A contaminant can be anything that is not a water molecule.
There are many other water contaminants that could lead to health problems.
The EPA says water contaminants can be:
-Physical – sediment or organic material that changes water’s physical properties.
-Chemical – either naturally – occurring or man-made.
-Biological – microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
-Radiological – chemical elements that emit radiation such as cesium, plutonium, and uranium.
Lead in the water supply has been a concern in the United States for some time. For the last 20 years, government regulations have required municipalities to maintain certain lead levels and test for contaminations on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, the problem is far from solved.
One may ask why lead is a health concern? Lead is a naturally occurring metal, but it is also toxic to humans. When ingested, it can accumulate in the body potentially causing a variety of health complications such as developmental issues, increased cancer risk, severe damage to the nervous system, reproductive system, and other organs. In addition lead can be the cause of anemia and high blood pressure.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has levels it considers acceptable (15 pbb), there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe in our homes or our schools.
List of concerns
The following is a compiled list of questions & concerns regarding Sycamore’s city water from current residents of Sycamore, IL.
1. Residents want to discuss Sycamore's aging water mains - and how it is affecting our water:
The 2019 Master Water Plan states that these pre-1940 4"-6" cast iron mains are nearing or have reached their end of usefulness and should be replaced. Signs that these pipes are beginning to fail (due to corrosion), include strong odor, color, and flakes of debris in the water. These symptoms are all common complaints among residents in these older neighborhoods. If these expired pipes are not replaced, lead and other contaminants begin to leach into the water supply from the soil and from the lead fittings and soldering that was commonly used at the time of construction. Sycamore has not addressed their failing infrastructure. Public Works points to "water age" as the reason for these water issues. Public Works has acknowledged that "water age" is a problem throughout Sycamore, including in the newer developments. However, these newer developments are not complaining about foul smelling, unusable, water. It is logical to conclude that the foul odors are most likely the result of "aged water" sitting in these deteriorating water mains. Residents in these affected neighborhoods are concerned about their water quality and safety. To date, Public Works has not tested this foul water or been able to provide concrete data explaining the cause of this odor.
2. Concern about elevated lead levels: As noted above, lead and other contaminates can leach into the water supply through deteriorating water mains. Just recently, an elevated lead level has been confirmed by a state certified lab in a home with all updated plumbing & a new line to the b-box. Clearly, this elevated lead level is coming from city water. Regarding elevated lead levels, the typical response by Public Works is to encourage residents to replace their indoor plumbing and lead line to the b-box. It is now becoming apparent that elevated lead levels are NOT just the responsibility of the homeowner. Public Works needs to investigate these reports, and do additional testing in the neighborhoods potentially at risk. Public Works must improve their communication with residents who are potentially affected by elevated lead levels. The City needs to clean up their water supply by replacing any failing water mains that could be leaching lead & other contaminates.
3. Residents want an updated report on mitigation efforts to reduce high levels of lead found in
Sycamore’s elementary schools: The 2017 report detailed elevated lead levels in all five elementary schools. Residents want to understand why these levels are so high and what additional testing has been done. Residents are concerned about elevated lead levels in neighborhoods surrounding these schools, if water mains are shared.
North Grove Elementary School, our’s newest elementary school had the highest lead levels at 44.2, 35.1 and 31.9 This school had ten drinking source lead results greater than 5 pbb.
South Prairie Elementary School had the second highest lead levels at 42.1, 21.8, and 20.3. This school had nine drinking source results greater than 5 pbb. West Elementary School had fifteen drinking source results with lead levels above 5 pbb with the highest levels being 38.4, 21.9, and 20.3.
North Elementary School had ten drinking source results with lead levels greater than 5 pbb. Their highest levels were 25.6, 21.9 and 15.9.
South East Elementary, our city’s oldest elementary school had five lead levels above 5 pbb. This school's highest level was 8.85 pbb.
4. Residents want more transparency about the City's water testing & results:
- Residents understand that testing is done at the well sites. We'd like this data to be more easily accessible - perhaps a link on the cityofsycamore.com website?
- Residents want more details about the distribution points within city limits. We've been told 30 sites are tested every 3 years....are these the same sites year after year or different sites each year? Residents want information about the locations and test results for each of these sites. The 2019 Consumer Confidence Report states that one site tested above the action level of 15. Residents want to know where this elevated level occurred and what the City's mitigation response was. Residents expect to be notified if there is an elevated level in their neighborhood.
Not sure if this is happening. Also, residents are concerned that if these sites are located near a newer or larger main, the test results may not reflect homes off a smaller or older main. Likewise, if distribution sites off these aging mains have newer plumbing, the tests may not reflect homes with older plumbing on the same main.
Residents want assurance that Public Works is getting a true representation of its water quality in all our neighborhoods and this detailed information needs to be publicly available on the City's website.
-Residents have seen an increase of flushing & testing at the hydrants this year. We'd like to know why this has increased and are asking for transparency regarding these tests & results.
5. Residents want to better understand the 7 "priority" projects selected from the 2019 Master Water Plan:
Our understanding is that there are 10 projects recommended in the 2019 Master Water Plan, in addition to the recommendation to replace the deteriorating 4-6" water mains. The 7 priority projects do not include the replacement of most of these aging 4"-6" mains. What is the time frame for these 7 priority projects? Residents want to know how the City intends to continue using these mains that have reached their maximum life expectancy but are not planned to be replaced. How much longer does the City intend to keep these 115 year old mains in use?
6. Residents want accountability & a plan:
Residents want an account of WHY funding has not been set-aside over the years for these necessary infrastructure repairs & replacements. It is irresponsible that, for decades, the City of Sycamore has not addressed their aging infrastructure. Residents expect accountability and a plan to move forward for the health & safety of the entire community. We've primarily been concerned about neighborhoods in the original and earliest additions, with mains over 100 years old. However, it's important to note that water main extensions added to neighborhoods built in the 1940s & 50s are approaching 70-80 years of operation and are reaching their end of usefulness as well.
The 2019 Master Water Plan says that "more than 45% of the City's distribution system is 50 years or older" (Page 3-3). The problem of aging infrastructure is not isolated to Sycamore. Across America, towns & cities are facing similar challenges. Funding options should be discussed and acted upon.
-The EPA has established the WIFIA program that “accelerates investment in our nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental loans for regionally and nationally significant projects.” (https://www.epa.gov/wifia)
-There’s also the SWIFIA program: “The State infrastructure financing authority WIFIA (SWIFIA) program, authorized by Congress in section 4201 of America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2018, is a new loan program exclusively for State infrastructure financing authority borrowers.” (https://www.epa.gov/wifia/what-swifia) List of Concerns Regarding Sycamore’s City Water Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore, IL
1. Water quality has been deteriorating over the last several years in many of our older neighborhoods. Conversations with the City have not provided the confidence that this foul water is, indeed, safe. Additional research has uncovered many questions about infrastructure & testing that the City has yet to answer.
2. Residents have been told for years to replace their hot water heater, indoor plumbing, and service line. More and more residents have invested thousands of dollars in these upgrades and still the water remains just as horrible. Public Works cannot continue to cast blame entirely on the homeowner for these water issues. The City needs to take responsibility for their infrastructure.
– Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore, IL