House bill targets ongoing quarry contamination concerns
An Olympic event that never happened has led to health and environmental concerns that are all too real, according to state Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Mokena).
In the hopes of landing the 2016 Games in Chicago, Illinois passed legislation that allowed the dumping of tons of debris from construction operations into unlined quarries. The belief was that doing so would help alleviate the cost and expedite the potential construction commitment needed to host an event of such magnitude.
Environmental experts objected to the move, arguing that contaminants would undoubtedly seep into aquifers and poison drinking water. Groundwater monitoring provisions that were promised were never set up, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
Now, McDermed, with bipartisan support from 28 other sponsors, is pushing House Bill 3056, which would mandate groundwater monitoring at unlined quarries throughout the state.
State Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield), one of the bill's sponsors, said the legislation is way overdue.
“Keeping our air and water clean is an important, critical function of government,” he said. “While I am generally opposed to growth in regulation, it is imperative that we keep our drinking water safe from contaminants.”
All clean construction and demolition debris fill operations at unlined quarries would be affected. Amendments to the current guidance on groundwater monitoring in quarries would be adopted to require and regulate these operations and all uncontaminated soil fill sites as well. Exemptions or certain exclusions would be granted during a period of "dewatering."
Gov. Bruce Rauner has also voiced support for the legislation.
"I am now going to start fighting for real protections for our groundwater in Will County and all the other countries where these quarries are," McDermed told the Will County Gazette.
The Illinois attorney general, the IEPA, numerous county-level public health departments and environmental groups have long urged rules for groundwater monitoring.
Environmentalist groups also have shown support for HB3056.
The Illinois Environmental Council, one of the only environmental groups to have commented on the issue prior to McDermed’s bill, called the legislation an exceptional approach to the problem, especially in Will County.
“Contaminated debris that is sent to quarries in Illinois poses a risk to the groundwater of local people,” Jen Walling, executive director of the council, said. “In Will County, large populations live near these quarries and use groundwater from local aquifers as drinking water. At a minimum, the law should be changed to require groundwater monitoring to protect people near these sites."
Jack Darin, the director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter, expressed similar thoughts.
“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.”
Based on data from the state Environmental Protection Agency, there are 77 unlined quarries across the state that carry the potential for contamination of groundwater. Forty-four of the quarries are in the Chicago metro area, while the remaining sites are scattered across communities downstate, including near Manteno, Joliet, Plainfield, Romeoville and Bolingbrook.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center refused to comment on this story.