New rules that double the state's minimum chlorine levels in municipal water supplies and are hoped to reduce water-borne illnesses such as Legionnaires’ disease received approval recently from the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
“This gives Illinois a chance to emerge as a leader,” Bradley Considine, director of strategic initiatives for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease, said Thursday.
If the rules are implemented later this year, Illinois would join states such as Kansas, Ohio, North Carolina and Oklahoma in requiring chlorine concentrations at or above 1 milligram of chlorine per liter of water. The current minimum requirement in Illinois is 0.5 milligrams.
Groups representing hundreds of public water systems statewide, including Springfield’s City Water, Light and Power, say there’s a lack of scientific evidence that higher chlorine levels will result in better public health.
Higher chlorine levels can lead to complaints about water odor and taste, and there will be a cost to municipalities to make sure their systems satisfy the rules, said Ted Meckes, CWLP water division manager.
Problems such as Legionnaires’, which led to a 2015 outbreak at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy that sickened more than 50 people and killed at least a dozen, would be best addressed by stricter statewide plumbing-system requirements for housing complexes and other buildings, Meckes said.
Considine said the alliance disagrees with Meckes and other critics when it comes to higher standards for municipal water systems. Higher chlorine levels, updating state standards that haven’t been tweaked since the 1980s, likely will lead to fewer Legionnaires’ cases, he said.
The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’, a severe form of pneumonia acquired by inhaling bacteria-containing water droplets, get into the pipes of buildings through municipal systems, Considine said.
Increased chlorination is needed to stem a nationwide increase in Legionnaires’ cases related to aging water supply systems and an aging population of people with reduced immunity to fight off Legionnaires’ and other pathogens, he said.
The 4-0 vote by the pollution control board on May 30 paves the way for consideration of the rules July 16 by the General Assembly’s bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
If adopted by JCAR, the rules would take effect this summer. Compliance would be monitored and enforced through the reports that municipalities are required to submit to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs said.
The rate of reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease has grown nearly 5½ times since 2000, with close to 7,500 cases reported in the United States in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 509 Legionnaires’ cases and 42 deaths in Illinois in 2018, compared with 332 cases and 29 deaths in 2017 and 249 cases and 27 deaths in 2014, according to the state public health department.
The pollution control board said in its May 30 order that the proposed rules would be “economically feasible” for the state’s 1,744 community water supplies serving 12 million people.
Likewise, the IEPA said in a 2017 filing in the case the new rules are “technically feasible and economically reasonable” and “reflect best practices already being employed by community water supplies in Illinois and across the United States.”
The IEPA added: “The proposal will add clarity and provides proven technical means to ensure that Illinois water consumers obtain drinking water that is adequate in quantity and safe in quality. Most of these design, operation and maintenance practices are currently employed, and these rules will not result in an adverse economic impact to the citizens of Illinois.”
CWLP, which serves a population of 145,000 people in Springfield and residents of communities that include Sherman, Rochester and Jerome, sends water to customers with initial chlorine levels of 1.8 to 2.3 milligrams per liter, Meckes said. Those levels meet the proposed new minimum standard already, he said.
But CWLP, in anticipation of the new rules, plans to install several “flushing stations” at various points in its water system to keep water moving and thus prevent chlorine levels from dropping as water flows through the system, Meckes said.
The flushing stations cost $2,000 to $3,000 apiece. As a result, CWLP anticipates an initial total expense of $10,000 to $15,000, Meckes said.
CWLP budgets about $30 million a year to treat and distribute water to its customers, he said.
The cost of upgrades to comply with the proposed rules could be more of a burden for smaller municipal water systems, he said.
The pollution control board said in its May 30 order that the “proposed chlorine residual does not prescribe any compliance strategy” and can be achieved through “operational and management practices, chemical addition, and sampling strategies.”
As a result, the order said, “these options make it difficult to establish specific costs across 1,744 varied water supplies.”
Contact Dean Olsen at email@example.com, (217) 788-1543 or twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.