DECATUR — The city’s water management department will receive nearly $180,000 from the settlement of a class-action lawsuit with the maker of a common agricultural herbicide.
Syngenta, the maker of atrazine, agreed to pay $105 million in the settlement, which is divided among more than 1,000 communities. The amount each community receives varies according to the effort it could prove it had taken to remove atrazine from the water supply.
“We knew that the settlement had a lot of participants, but we did not know exactly the magnitude of what kind of class-action settlement we might receive,” said Keith Alexander, director of water management. “So we were pleasantly surprised by the amount.”
The chemical typically enters the water through runoff from the fields on which it is used. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the herbicide in drinking water, says people could have cardiovascular or reproductive problems if they consistently drink water that contains more atrazine than EPA allows.
The settlement in October ended the lawsuit, which cited research that suggested atrazine exposure could lead to health problems for unborn children and may act as a carcinogen. The company said atrazine levels in the water could not become high enough to affect anyone’s health.
Decatur’s water management practices already include the use of powdered activated carbon to help improve the taste and odor of the water. The carbon also removes atrazine.
The city monitors the content of its water after the water has been treated, not before. As a result, it’s difficult to know how much the presence of atrazine could have affected the treatment process.
“It was just not that much of a concern because we knew that the process was taking it out,” said Don Giger, water production operations supervisor.
The maximum level of atrazine that the EPA allows in community drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb). The agency says that amount of atrazine could not lead to the health problems that larger concentrations might cause.
After demonstrating that its levels are consistently at or below that amount, Decatur was allowed last month to reduce the frequency with which samples are collected to test for the herbicide.
The exact amount Decatur will receive from the settlement is $179,126.51. Alexander said the money would go toward the city’s water fund as miscellaneous income.
It will provide just a small fraction of the annual cost to treat the water with various chemicals, including the powdered activated carbon. The total annual budget for the city’s water production department is $5.4 million, of which $2 million is used for chemicals.
Other Central Illinois communities that received some part of the settlement money include Springfield, Jacksonville, Effingham, Neoga, Mattoon, Bloomington, Lincoln and Vandalia.