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Wastewater Operator Certification

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is the wastewater operator certification program mandatory or voluntary?

  2. How are wastewater treatment facilities classified in Illinois?

  3. What are the wastewater operator certification levels available in Illinois?

  4. What are the eligibility requirements for each certification level?

  5. Are there any substitutions that can be used to help satisfy the eligibility requirements?

  6. What is a wastewater operator?

  7. What is wastewater operating experience?

  8. What is related experience?

  9. How is credit applied if my job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience?

  10. How often and where are wastewater examinations offered?

  11. How do I obtain wastewater certification?

  12. To become certified at a particular level, must I work up to that level by passing the examinations for all of the lower certification levels?

  13. If I fail an examination, how long must I wait to retake it?

  14. Can I schedule to take an examination for the same certification level on more than one examination date?

  15. Can I just show up at an examination site and take an examination?

  16. Can I take a certification examination before I meet the eligibility requirements for that certification level?

  17. What is the purpose of the Operator-In-Training certificates?

  18. Can an individual with an Operator-In-Training certificate be considered as the properly certified operator for a wastewater treatment facility?

  19. Does the properly certified wastewater operator need to be present at the wastewater treatment facility all the time that it is in operation?

  20. What is the difference between the general and the facility specific Class K certificates?

  21. How long is a wastewater certificate in effect?

  22. Are there any fees associated with wastewater operator certification?

  23. Are there any continuing education requirements associated with wastewater operator certification?

  24. Does Illinois have reciprocity with wastewater certifying authorities from any other states or provinces?

  25. Can the Agency 'discipline' wastewater operators?

  26. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is on probation?

  27. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is suspended?

  28. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is revoked?

1. Is the wastewater operator certification program mandatory or voluntary?

The wastewater operator certification program is a mandatory program. This means that each wastewater treatment facility in Illinois is required to be operated by a wastewater operator who is certified at or above the certification level required for the treatment facility. However, a voluntary certification program for collection system operators is being implemented. Since this is a voluntary program, it means that a certified collection system operator is not required to operate a collection system, although it is strongly recommended by the Agency.

2. How are wastewater treatment facilities classified in Illinois?

Wastewater treatment facilities are classified as either industrial or domestic facilities.

Industrial wastewater treatment facilities require a Class K certified wastewater operator.

Domestic wastewater treatment facilities are classified in one of 4 groups as follows:

Group 4 - Septic tank and lagoon treatment systems. Group 4 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 4 or higher level (Class 3, Class 2, or Class1).

Group 3 - Fixed film processes and Imhoff tank systems with a design average flow of 1.0 MGD or less, and all primary treatment systems. Group 3 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 3 or higher level (Class 2 or Class1).

Group 2 - Activated sludge systems with a design average flow of 1.0 MGD or less. Group 2 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 2 or higher level (Class1).

Group 1 - All domestic wastewater treatment systems over 1.0 MGD, excluding lagoon systems and primary treatment systems. Group 1 facilities require a wastewater operator certified at the Class 1 level.

3. What are the wastewater operator certification levels available in Illinois?

Domestic:
Class 4 (lowest level)
Class 3
Class 2
Class 1 (highest level)

Industrial (Class K):
Facility Specific
General (Water Remediation)

Operator-In-Training:
Basic
Intermediate
Advanced

Collection System Operator

4. What are the eligibility requirements for each certification level?

Class 4
1 year wastewater operating experience
Class 3 3 years wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class 2 6 years wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class 1 8 years wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Class K Active supervision and/or operation of an industrial wastewater treatment facility
Operator-In-Training Basic 3 months wastewater operating experience or 1 wastewater course
Operator-In-Training Intermediate 1 year wastewater operating experience
Operator-In-Training Advanced 3 years wastewater operating experience and high school education or equivalent
Collection System Operator 1 year collection system operating experience and high school education or equivalent

5. Are there any substitutions that can be used to help satisfy the eligibility requirements?

Yes, for the Operator-In-Training Intermediate, Operator-In-Training Advanced, Class 4, Class 3, Class 2, and Class 1 certification levels, up to 50 percent of the total requirement may be combined credit received for completed wastewater courses, college credits, and related experience.

The Operator-In-Training Intermediate and Class 4 levels receive an additional 3 months substitution credit for high school completion or the equivalent. For Collection System Operator certification, up to 9 months credit may be granted for completion of collection system courses and/or wastewater courses and/or wastewater operating experience.

6. What is a wastewater operator?

A wastewater operator is a person who regularly makes recommendations concerning or is responsible for process control decisions at a wastewater treatment facility.

7. What is wastewater operating experience?

Wastewater operating experience is time spent performing the duties of a wastewater operator.

8. What is related experience?

Related experience is experience operating collection systems or drinking water supplies or laboratory or maintenance experience at a wastewater treatment facility.

9. How is credit applied if my job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience?

If your job duties consist of both wastewater operating experience and related experience, credit is assessed based on the percentage of time spent performing each type of experience. If 50 percent or more of time at work is classified as wastewater operating experience, full credit is given for wastewater operating experience and zero credit is given for related experience. If less than 50 percent of time at work is classified as wastewater operating experience, half credit is given for wastewater operating experience and half credit is given for related experience.

10. How often and where are wastewater examinations offered?

Examinations are offered every month at a minimum of four sites around the state. In the Greater Chicago metropolitan area an exam is offered every month. In all other areas of the state, exams are offered once every two months (every other month). At times, additional special exams may be offered. Generally, exams are offered at Agency regional office facilities. Exceptions are the Greater Chicago metropolitan area, the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area, and special exams, all of which utilize non-Agency sites.

11. How do I obtain wastewater certification?

The necessary steps to become certified are: Submit a completed application to operator certification unit. Applications are available from the operator certification unit or from any of the Agency's seven regional offices. The regional offices are located in Rockford, Maywood, Peoria, Champaign, Springfield, Collinsville, and Marion. The application is reviewed and the applicant is sent either an examination admittance letter or a letter indicating experience credit given and the amount of eligibility shortfall. Obtain a score of 70 on a certification examination.

12. To become certified at a particular level, must I work up to that level by passing the examinations for all of the lower certification levels?

No, you may take any examination that you are eligible for. You do not have to pass the lower level examinations first.

13. If I fail an examination, how long must I wait to retake it?

There is no minimum period you must wait before you can retake an examination. You can take an examination the next time it is offered.

14. Can I schedule to take an examination for the same certification level on more than one examination date?

No, you may only schedule for one examination date and location at a time. If you are scheduled for an examination, you may not schedule to take the same examination again until after you receive your examination results notification letter. The number of examinees who can be accommodated at each examination site is limited and if an individual schedules at more than one examination, it denies someone else the opportunity to take an examination. If you are scheduled for an examination and, after scheduling, find out you will not be able to attend as planned, you may contact the Operator Certification Unit to change your scheduled examination date.

15. Can I just show up at an examination site and take an examination?

No, you must first be determined eligible to take an examination. Eligibility is determined through the application process described above in Item #11. In addition, each examination site will accommodate only a certain number of examinees and, even if you are eligible, there is no guarantee that there will be room for you. All scheduling for examinations will be done on a first come first-served basis through the Operator Certification Unit.

16. Can I take a certification examination before I meet the eligibility requirements for that certification level?

No, you must satisfy the eligibility requirements for a particular certification level before you will be allowed to take the corresponding examination.

17. What is the purpose of the Operator-In-Training certificates?

The Operator-In-Training Basic certificate is intended to recognize individuals who are just beginning a career in the wastewater treatment field. This examination stresses basic general knowledge of wastewater treatment processes. The Operator-In-Training Intermediate and Advanced certificates are intended to provide an alternative route for obtaining Class 2 certification for operators at activated sludge facilities located in large metropolitan areas. These examinations stress the activated sludge treatment processes rather than the treatment processes included on the Class 4 and Class 3 examinations since these operators are not familiar with the operation of lagoons, trickling filters, packed towers, etc.

18. Can an individual with an Operator-In-Training certificate be considered as the properly certified operator for a wastewater treatment facility?

No, the properly certified operator for a particular wastewater treatment facility must be certified at a level equal to or higher than the certification level required for that facility. An Operator-In-Training certificate does not meet this requirement.

19. Does the properly certified wastewater operator need to be present at the wastewater treatment facility all the time that it is in operation?

The properly certified operator must exercise direct and active field supervision of the wastewater treatment facility. Situations will dictate whether or not the physical presence of the properly certified operator is required on site. However, in all situations, it is expected that the properly certified operator has sufficient knowledge of the treatment facility to handle the situation expeditiously and correctly.

20. What is the difference between the general and the facility specific Class K certificates?

The general Class K certificate, also referred to as a Class K-WR, is intended only for treatment or pretreatment facilities which treat groundwater contaminated with gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and/or kerosene. Most of these facilities are associated with entities which store petroleum fuels underground, such as gas stations. The main treatment process involved is either air stripping or activated carbon canister. Facilities treating groundwater contaminated with other substances, such as solvents, require facility specific Class K certification. An operator who holds Class K-WR certification may operate any treatment or pretreatment facility in Illinois which treats groundwater contaminated with gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and/or kerosene. A facility specific Class K certificate, as the name implies, is issued only for the operation of the specific industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility for which the operator wrote the examination. In order for an operator to be certified at additional industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facilities, the operator must apply for and pass the Class K examinations for the additional facilities. In addition, if an industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility is upgraded to include additional and/or different treatment processes than the original facility, the operator must apply for and pass the Class K examination for the upgraded industrial wastewater treatment or pretreatment facility in order to remain properly certified for the upgraded facility.

21. How long is a wastewater certificate in effect? Do wastewater certificates have to be renewed? There is no renewal requirement for wastewater operator certificates at the present time. Currently, a wastewater operator certificate has no expiration date. There are two ways a certified operator may become uncertified. One is that an operator may voluntarily return his certification to the Operator Certification Unit. The other is that the Agency may revoke an operator's certificate due to improper actions performed by the operator in the course of operating a wastewater treatment facility. It should be noted that although there is no renewal requirement for wastewater certificates at the present time, this does not preclude the institution of wastewater certificate renewal at some point in the future.

22. Are there any fees associated with wastewater operator certification?

There are no fees associated with wastewater operator certification at the present time. However, this does not preclude the institution of wastewater certification fees at some point in the future.

23. Are there any continuing education requirements associated with wastewater operator certification?

There are no continuing education requirements associated with wastewater operator certification at the present time. However, this does not preclude the institution of a continuing education requirement for wastewater operator certification in the future.

24. Does Illinois have reciprocity with wastewater certifying authorities from any other states or provinces?

Illinois currently has formal reciprocity agreements with Indiana and Missouri that delineate generally how each program relates to Illinois' program in regard to certification levels. This information in conjunction with an individual's qualifications is used to determine the specific Illinois certificate that can be issued. It should be noted that, due to the uniqueness of Illinois' industrial certification program, it is not possible to consider issuing Class K certificates by reciprocity.

25. Can the Agency 'discipline' wastewater operators?

Yes, the Agency can 'discipline' wastewater operators through the certificate sanction process. Potential causes for sanction include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Obtaining or attempting to obtain certification by fraud or deceit.
  • Gross negligence or gross misconduct in the operation of a wastewater treatment facility or pretreatment facility.
  • Falsification of records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful failure to maintain records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful nonsubmission of records and reports that are required by the Environmental Protection Act or any rules promulgated under it.
  • Willful violation of the Environmental Protection Act or any rules that are promulgated under it.
  • A final judgment in a civil action or a conviction in a criminal action that an operator has performed any of the acts listed above.
    Note - Sanctions include, but are not limited to, prohibition of application for certification, probation, suspension, and revocation.

26. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is on probation?

Probation means that a wastewater operator has been put on notice that for a period of time, the Agency will be closely watching his operational practices. If the operator does not get things turned around during the specified time period, additional sanctions could be imposed. Probation is generally for short periods of time.

27. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is suspended?

A suspended wastewater certificate is considered invalid during the suspension period. A certificate may be suspended for a period of up to 18 months. During the suspension period, experience obtained is not considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements. At the end of the suspension period, the certificate is again considered valid and experience obtained is again considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements.

28. What does it mean if my wastewater certificate is revoked?

A revoked certificate is considered invalid. A certificate may be revoked for a period of not less than 18 months and not more than four years. Experience obtained during the revocation is not considered for credit toward meeting certification eligibility requirements. At the end of the revocation period, an operator must apply for and pass the certification examination for the desired level of certification to become certified as a wastewater operator again.

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