Bill in Illinois House calls for groundwater monitoring in Kankakee quarries
Some local elected officials are throwing support behind a bill that would set forth new regulations for monitoring groundwater at unlined quarries around the state, including in Kankakee County, where debris dumping raises public health and environmental concerns.
Rep. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), a co-sponsor of House Bill 3056, told the Kankakee Times that this legislation is pivotal for his constituents.
"Clean, safe drinking water is essential to our health and quality of life and our drinking water supply must be protected as one of our most vital resources," he said. "I will continue my efforts to support and sponsor legislative measures to protect our environment and make our communities safer, because future generations are depending on us to make the right decisions today for the world they will live in tomorrow."
Jeff Keast, a Republican member of the Bourbonnais Village Board, told the Kankakee Times that the lack of oversight threatened people's well-being.
“This is a perfect example of why people get disenfranchised with their government,” Keast said. “Our government should be held to a high standard. If we have a law it should be enforced. This needs to be enforced. Water is a commodity that is most important to our survival on this planet and needs to be protected.”
In 2010, when the state was in the running to host the 2016 Olympics in Chicago, lawmakers passed a law allowing construction companies to dump contaminated debris from work sites into unlined quarries. Environmental experts opposed the measure, saying contaminants could seep into aquifers and infect local drinking water sources. Groundwater monitoring regulations were promised but never established.
Now, HB3056 would mandate groundwater monitoring at unlined quarries in and around the Chicago metro area, and other areas in every corner of the state.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has come out in support of the bill. So has one of his opponents in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), according to the Illinois Valley Times.
If passed, all clean construction and demolition debris fills operating at these quarries would be affected. The bill calls for such operations to monitor water quality. Exemptions and exclusions are included if these operations are undergoing dewatering activities.
There are more than 77 unlined quarries in the state – 44 in the Chicago metro area and 33 in downstate communities, according to data from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. There are several quarries located in the Kankakee region.
Some of the state’s foremost environmental groups have shown support for HB3056.
The Illinois Environmental Council’s executive director Jen Walling, argues that the legislation can address certain public health issues.
"So-called clean construction and demolition debris are far from clean," she said. "When this material is stored in quarries, rain permeates the debris and can carry hazardous materials into groundwater. For this reason and to protect the public, these sites need to have groundwater monitoring similar to other disposal sites."
Jack Darin, the director of the Sierra Club of Illinois, agreed and voiced support for HB3056.
“Quarries normally stop mining rock when they hit the water table, so there is great concern for interaction with waste materials and the aquifer,” he said. “Sierra Club has worked for many years to either oppose quarry disposal of demolition debris or other wastes, and also to require better groundwater monitoring, materials testing, and other safeguards in cases where it is, unfortunately, happening.”
Environmental Law & Policy Center, a think tank based in Chicago, declined to comment for this story.
Sens. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) and Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) did not return requests for comment.
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