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CHICAGO (August 3, 2021) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today ordered the city of Cahokia Heights, Illinois, and the drinking water utilities in the city to take immediate actions to prevent drinking-water contamination and to protect the health of residents. While there is no evidence there is contamination in the drinking water now, a recent EPA inspection identified serious problems that could affect drinking-water safety, especially during sewer overflows. The water systems serve about 21,000 people. Actions taken today are intended to protect residents of Cahokia Heights and the safety of their drinking water.
“This order is an important step toward ensuring safe drinking water for the Cahokia Heights community,” said acting EPA Region 5 Administrator Cheryl Newton. “EPA is pleased to have the support of the state of Illinois and is working with them and with other federal agencies in a whole-of-government approach to fix these problems once and for all.”
“With this enforcement action, EPA is rightfully recognizing that the people of Cahokia Height’s health is the highest priority and is currently endangered by the state of their crumbling water systems,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth. “Although this is a necessary step, it is a shame that these residents are in this situation at all. I am hopeful this action will help the city get back on the right track toward compliance and improving residents’ lives. I remain deeply concerned with the safety of the people of this city and the management of Cahokia Height’s water systems. I will continue to work with the residents, local and state officials as well as EPA to make sure this system is repaired and the community health is protected.”
“Flint, Michigan, taught us to take the safety of our drinking water seriously. That’s why this announcement by U.S. EPA is an important step to address the long-held concerns of residents in Cahokia Heights of drinking water contamination. These Illinoisans deserve the strongest, swiftest measures to ensure their drinking water is safe. I will continue to work with Senator Duckworth, U.S. EPA, Cahokia Heights residents, and local and state officials to make sure the federal government is responsive to the unacceptable water and sewage issues faced by residents of Cahokia Heights,” U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said.
The Safe Drinking Water Act provides EPA with broad authority to act to protect the health of the public. Cahokia Heights, the Illinois American Water Co., Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District and the Village of Cahokia Public Water System will be required to carry out additional monitoring for bacteria, chlorine and water pressure in areas where sanitary sewer overflows occur, and to address operation and maintenance issues including increasing staffing and making repairs to storage tanks and the distribution systems.
The order requires several steps that together will help ensure sewage does not contaminate the drinking water supply including: constant monitoring of drinking water pressure, increased testing for bacteria and testing for effective chlorine levels to help ensure that sewage does not enter the drinking water. A system under the correct amount of pressure will keep outside contaminants, like dirt and bacteria, from entering the system. A loss of pressure can occur when water lines leak or break. If bacteria is found in the drinking water, EPA may require the utilities to notify the public, issue a boil-water notice and provide bottled water until repairs are made and sample results are negative for bacteria.
Cahokia Heights is a town in Southern Illinois that faces numerous environmental challenges. Community advocates and residents raised their concerns to EPA, including their concerns about environmental justice. The Agency is committed to work toward environmental justice, which is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
EPA will continue to provide updates to Cahokia Heights residents about drinking water quality issues in the area. Updates can also be found on EPA’s website: https://www.epa.gov/il/cahokia-heights-drinking-water
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