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Great Lakes Article:

Bill would require disclosure on pollutants
By Amy Boerema
Daily Herald, Chicago, IL
02/23/04


It was frightening enough to discover their water was tainted with a toxic chemical.

But it was even more unfathomable to learn the government knew about it and didn't tell them, said Lisle residents Teresa and Al LeClerq.

"We found out, and it felt like we were in a horror movie," Teresa LeClerq said.

Had they known their water was polluted with trichloroethylene from the Lockformer Co. site on Ogden Avenue, they could have taken precautions, they said.

Now state lawmakers, with the backing of Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, are proposing legislation that would require the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to warn residents of such dangers.

Quinn was joined Sunday at the Thompson Center in Chicago by about 30 residents, including several Lisle-area families who have been affected by polluted water or hazardous materials, to push for the bill's approval.

"If the government knows about a toxic problem, it needs to share that information with the families of Illinois," Quinn said. "They have a right to know."

Sponsored by state Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat, the Toxic Chemical Disclosure Act requires the IEPA to notify nearby residents of environmental cleanups or investigations through mail notices and newspaper and online postings.

Besides Lockformer, cases prompting the bill include one in Downers Grove, where authorities said toxic chemicals seeped into the aquifer from the Ellsworth Industrial Park.

Naperville attorney Shawn Collins, who led the Lockformer fight on behalf of local families, said the bill would allow people to protect themselves, their children and their property.

He won more than $32 million for residents and families from three suits he filed against Lockformer in the past two years.

"The awful truth in Illinois is that there's a conspiracy of silence between polluters and some in government to keep secret serious environmental problems," he said.

The bill, which could be passed this year, would kill that conspiracy, he said.

In 2001, Jana Bendik of Downers Grove was diagnosed with cancer, believed to have been caused from a tainted aquifer.

"It's extremely exciting to see this finally happening because it's long overdue," Bendik said. "If this can help one person to spare them what I've experienced the past two years, it's well worth our while to do it."

Besides health concerns, Dan and Terry Mejdrech, who live near Downers Grove, said they face decreased property values and the stigma of living in a contaminated area.

And though it's been more than three years since the LeClerqs discovered the pollution, they're still feeling the effects.

Long after their home was hooked up to Lake Michigan water, the family - including the dog - still drinks only bottled water.

Even when eating in restaurants far from home, they don't drink the tap water.

Teresa LeClerq said corporations need to stop covering up and be held liable for their actions.

"It still weighs heavily," she said. "We try to forget it, but it's been a nightmare."

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