Articles Posted in Groundwater contamination

water-1154080_1920-1024x680In the United States, more than 13 million households rely on private wells to get their drinking water. But unlike municipal sources of drinking water, like a town or city, private wells are not regulated by the government. Instead, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their own drinking water.

To make sure that private well water is free from contaminants, wells should be tested at least once a year. Yet, routine water tests for private wells are uncommon in Illinois and in other places across the country. Without these tests, however, families have no way of knowing whether their private well water is safe to drink.

Testing your well water is important because it’s the only way to determine whether it contains chemicals or other contaminants that may be harmful to your health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that the following contaminants are commonly found in private well water:

coal-ash-photo-300x188Among news of federal regulations being scaled back and reports of the drastic climate change situation, it’s nice to hear about a state taking action to protect the environment. This summer, Illinois did just that. Governor Pritzker signed the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which protects Illinois residents and the environment from the dangerous effects of toxic coal ash.

So, what’s coal ash and why is it dangerous? Coal ash, also called “coal combustion residuals,” is the group of byproducts produced from burning coal. The byproducts include waste from each process in the coal plant, like “bottom ash” sitting at the bottom of the coal furnace and “fly ash” that’s captured going out the smokestacks. Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial wastes in the United States. Nearly 130 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2014. About one-third of coal ash is recycled, but the majority is either dumped into landfills at the power plants or mixed with water and put in “ponds” behind earthen walls.

Coal ash can be incredibly dangerous to humans and the environment. Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash can contain heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. If you eat, drink, or inhale them, heavy metals can cause cancer and nervous system malfunctions, such as developmental delays. They have also been linked to kidney disease, reproductive problems, heart damage, lung disease, birth defects, and impaired bone growth. When coal ash is improperly disposed of, in coal ash ponds that lack protective liners, for example, it can leach into the water, carrying toxic substances into drinking water supplies. Over 100 communities nationwide have been impacted by coal ash leaching. Some impacted communities in Illinois include Waukegan and Peoria.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for water-2296444_1920.jpgTens of thousands of Americans will learn this year that the water just underneath their home-their groundwater-is contaminated with chemicals that some nearby factory dumped probably decades ago, and left to bleed down through the soil, infiltrate the groundwater, and ultimately migrate into your neighborhood.

I’ve been representing families in exactly this predicament for nearly 18 years. This is what I’ve learned they should be doing/asking in response to this news:

(1) Talk to an experienced environmental lawyer about your legal rights and options. Contaminated groundwater, and what to do about it, involves some complicated legal, scientific and sometimes political issues. Also, while you are going to need access to accurate information, and quickly, in order to make good decisions to protect you family, those most likely to have the information-the polluter and sometimes government-may not want to give it to you. A lawyer can help you get it.

I’ve been working for nearly 18 years helping families in American neighborhoods use our court system to force the companies that polluted their water to clean it up. Despite all the anguish that having contaminated water initially caused these families, and despite the truly reprehensible behavior of some of the polluters who caused the contamination, I’ve always known one source of hope and pride: the American belief that everyone in this country has the right to clean water. We back up this belief with a host of laws–like the federal Clean Water Act–and regulations that compel our government agencies and courts to honor the right to clean water, even if it means forcing a polluter to spend millions of dollars to restore clean water to a neighborhood.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bhaktapur-909812_1280.jpgNow, it’s certainly a fair criticism–I’ve voiced it regularly–that our “clean water” laws could be stronger, enforced more vigilantly, or applied more thoughtfully, to help the disadvantaged in our communities. But the very fact that we have these laws at all, available for enforcement by courts who take them seriously in the great majority of cases in which I have been involved or of which I am aware, separates us from most countries in the world.

We Americans are often stunned to learn that the access to clean water which most of us take for granted is not shared by many in the rest of the world. As reported by an extraordinary organization called “Charity: Water”, there are more than 663 million people in the world who live daily without access to clean water.

I want to take a moment to recognize McHenry County, IL, and its Public Health Administrator, Michael Hill, for disclosing on the County’s website what it calls “Groundwater Contamination Incidents”. http://ow.ly/Gb7v30cyNOF

countryside-2252029_1920.jpgMcHenry, while a fast developing county, is not far-removed from its roots as essentially a rural community, where most residents drew their water directly from the ground, and so contaminated groundwater was a very big deal, indeed. It still is.

As you can see, McHenry and Hill have itemized 11 such “Incidents”, and interested citizens can click onto any one of them, and see a host of relevant documents, including environmental test results, newspaper articles, government correspondence, etc., as to each one of them. (I’m trusting that the County has identified all of the “Incidents” that it should, and that it adds new documents to each “Incident” page as they become available.)

glass-of-water-252x300.jpgThe great majority of families in the rural United States, and many other families, besides, depend on water coming directly from the ground for their everyday living needs. The groundwater also furnishes an emergency supply of clean water all over the country, in the event of contamination of the public water supply by, for example, a catastrophic accident or terrorist attack. So all of us should care about keeping the groundwater clean and safe for human use.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the purity of our groundwater is industrial pollution–for example, factories that dump degreasing chemicals, solvents, plasticizers or volatile organic compounds; gas stations whose underground tanks leak petroleum; landfills whose un-lined bottoms provide no barrier against the migration of toxic chemicals directly into the groundwater; and farming operations that saturate the ground with pesticides and herbicides that gradually sink into the groundwater.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has compiled a list of the chemicals most frequently found to be contaminating the groundwater; the typical sources of those chemicals; and the threats to human health that they present. If your family depends upon the groundwater, please take a good look at this list. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/groundwater-contaminants.html

Thumbnail image for fb49346c015be8c88fa807dd31907a0b.jpgFifty percent of Americans depend on groundwater for daily use in their homes, i.e., drinking, showering, etc. Unfortunately, the quality and safety of our groundwater is under increasing threat from a variety of man-made sources, with potentially grave risk to the health of those in our family who may be exposed to the contamination. Please take a moment to consider whether you live near any of these common sources of groundwater contamination:

  • Old industrial sites: There are over 20,000 known abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the US. Many were the site years ago of the reckless disposal of toxic chemicals, which by now have had years to migrate into local groundwater.
  • Landfills: Many landfills-and especially those which accepted waste before 1980 — are a danger to groundwater. Why? Because these landfills typically accepted dangerous chemicals (even though it was forbidden) and were not lined at the bottom, to prevent leakage of the chemicals directly into groundwater.
  • Underground storage tanks: There are an estimated 10 million buried storage tanks in the US, many containing gasoline, oil and other toxic chemicals which, if given enough time, will seep through the tank’s walls, and into the groundwater.

Pollutants in groundwater can travel between hundreds of feet from their source to, in extreme cases, two miles or more. So, if you live near any of these common sources of groundwater contamination, and your family depends on the groundwater for daily home use, please consult your state’s environmental regulator or the US EPA, to learn whether they pose a serious risk to your family.

http://www.groundwater.org/get-informed/groundwater/contamination.html

human-771601_1920.jpgAccording to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, California’s public water systems in the San Joaquin Valley and urban areas like LA and San Bernardino and San Mateo counties are contaminated with a very dangerous, cancer-causing chemical known as 1,2,3 trichloropropane (“TCP”). Evidently, the TCP is a remnant of a chemical manufactured by Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

The California State Water Board is proposing to limit the allowable concentration of TCP in drinking water to 5 parts per trillion. Fine. But who’s going to clean up the TCP? Are Dow and Shell responsible for the TCP in the water systems? The Water Board should also be looking into that. Because it’s not enough to just tell people how dangerous TCP is……the point is to get the TCP out of their water as soon as possible.

http://californiahealthline.org/multimedia/public-water-systems-polluted-with-123-tcp/

family-629924_1280.jpgI’ve been doing environmental contamination cases for about 20 year now, and have talked to hundreds of families who have gotten the bad news that there is a dangerous chemical in their water, air or yard. What I have learned over the process of talking to these people and being their lawyer in court, is that there are a series of questions that families need to get answers to in order to make good decisions to protect their home and family. Those 10 critical questions are:

1) What is the chemical contaminating my home and how dangerous is it? Depending on the kind of chemical, the dangers can be very extreme or very minimal. For example, there is a family of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including TCE and PCE, that have been studied for years and whose dangers are fairly well known. Others are not so well known. You need to insist on being told what specific chemicals are involved because then you can start getting answers to the question: how dangerous is it? This is especially important if you have children. Recent studies have shown that many of these chemicals are more dangerous to children because their immune systems are not fully formed, and they don’t process toxins as efficiently as adults. If you are dealing with one of these chemicals, it’s very important that you know because that drives what kind of protections you will need to insist on for your family.

2) How long has my family been exposed to this toxic chemical? Why do you need to know this? Because for most of these chemicals, the longer the exposure the greater the danger, especially for children. Many of these chemicals are odorless and tasteless, and you would never know you are being exposed to them. You need someone to tell you how long the chemical has been in your home, because that lets you know how concerned you should be about health issues.

For the last 17 years, I and a team of lawyers have been representing families threatened by TCE contamination in their water supply, in the groundwater underneath their homes, and in the air inside their homes (called “vapor intrusion”). Recent reports in the media unfortunately describe how TCE, disposed of years ago in Nonantum, Massachusetts has seeped into the groundwater about 60 feet below the surface, and, after turning into gas (‘vapor”), has risen back up through the soil and intruded into the breathing space of area homes.

Having known many hundreds of families over the years who were horrified to receive such news about TCE contamination in their homes and communities, my heart goes out to the families of Nonantum. I know many of them are scared- “What can this chemical do to me and my family?” they will ask. They have important questions that deserve answers such as: “How long has this contamination been in my neighborhood, and in my home, and who is responsible?” And they might well be angry- “Why didn’t someone in government protect us from this, or at least warn us that this could happen?”

With exactly these anxieties in mind, I want to provide some information to the people of Nonantum who are dealing with this, so they might understand what is going on, and how better to protect themselves. Here are some important things I have learned over the years:

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