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Lewistown could face legal action from IEPA over manganese water contamination

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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LEWISTOWN (Heart of Illinois ABC) - The city of Lewistown could face legal action with state regulators over a water dispute. The city violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency containment level for manganese and have yet agreed with the IEPA on a plan to fix it.

“You know there’s a problem, and the city is obviously not denying there’s a manganese issue, but they didn’t notify us properly,” said Lewistown resident, Jessica Whitsitt.

Whitsitt says she is buying bottled water everyday for her family since she found out Lewistown was in violation of the IEPA standard for manganese, an element found in water supplies.

She was frustrated when she learned the city put a notice in the paper to warn its residents of the situation, a method the mayor called an “oversight.”

“I’ll stop at Casey’s everyday and get like two bottled waters,” said Whitsitt.

The state EPA says the maximum contaminant level of manganese is .15 milligrams per liter. Last winter, Lewistown was testing at more than double that, .39 milligrams per liter.

Lewistown School District 97 Superintendent, Jeanne Davis, said the school is also providing water bottles to the students now, partly due to COVID, but also because they are looking for a better filtration system.

According to IEPA documents, children and adults who drink water with high levels of manganese for a long time may have problems with memory, attention and fine motor skills.

“You’re supposed to stop consumption immediately for infants. Obviously, I have a four month old, she’s an infant and I just couldn’t imagine anybody as an adult who would drink this water,” said Whitsitt.

Although, Lewistown Mayor Doug Layfary does not agree.

“I don’t see the evidence of that. I don’t like to scare people. Our water is safe,” said Layfary, “I drink it every day.”

Since Lewistown was notified in November that as the supplier, they were in violation, they needed to sign a ‘Compliance Commitment Agreement’ with the IEPA to bring the water back to compliance. But, the mayor did not sign it.

“The manganese levels have been the same for years and the EPA changed their rules,” Layfary continued, “We are complying with what they wanted. I just hadn’t signed the letter because I had so many questions.”

Lewistown Public Works Director, Evinn Palmer, said he changed operations to solve the problem, which shut down two of their seven operating wells. The IEPA agrees Lewistown’s water is in compliance for the first quarter of 2022, but there is no agreement that it will stay that way.

“I just want them to actually take the steps to actually look into it. I mean if it’s move the wells, look into it and show me proof that we’re doing it,” said Whitsitt.

“We are working to make the water the best we can,” said Layfary.

The mayor says they are asking about possibly grant money to cover improvements to their current infrastructure.

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