A major investigative report published last month by the Chicago Tribune found that millions of people in Illinois have been exposed to “toxic chemicals that build up in human blood, cause cancer and other diseases and take years to leave the body.”
Scientists call them per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), both of which are commonly known as forever chemicals since they don’t decompose organically in the environment, the Tribune reported.
“Despite plenty of warning signs, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency didn’t begin testing the state’s water utilities for PFAS until August 2020,” the Tribune added. “Then state and local officials downplayed the results, burying notices filled with technical jargon on government websites.”
The Tribune found that more than 60% of the Illinois facilities that tested for certain PFAS are in Chicago and the suburbs — including all of the water systems that supply residents of Proviso Township.
There are various ways that purified municipal water comes to the nine suburbs in the Village Free Press readership.
Most of the nine suburbs, including Bellwood, Maywood, Hillside and Berkeley (through the Hillside Berkeley Water Commission), Northlake and Stone Park, receive water through a transmission system maintained by the village of Melrose Park. Those suburbs, in turn, pay Melrose Park for transmission services.
Broadview and Westchester are the only two suburbs among the nine that don’t utilize Melrose Park’s system, since they transmit their water directly from Chicago through the Broadview-Westchester Joint Water Agency.
But all of those suburbs get water from the same source that supplies the more than 5 million in the Chicago metropolitan area — Lake Michigan. Water from the lake that comes to the northern suburbs that include Proviso is treated at the Jardine Water Purification Plant in Chicago.
According to the Tribune’s reporting, PFOS were found in a water sample treated at Jardine on May 19, 2009. That sample contained a concentration of PFOS of 3 parts per trillion.
That’s a low concentration relative to other water systems in Illinois. For instance, the Freeport water system tested a sample of water containing 237 parts per trillion of PFOS.
For some context, safeopedia.com explains that a “concentration of one part per trillion means that there is one part of that substance for every one trillion parts of either air, water or soil in which it is contained.
“It is very difficult to visualize how minute a particle one part per trillion really is. To get an idea, one ppt would be represented by a single drop of food coloring in 18 million gallons of water. Another way to view it as representing a single second out of 32,000 years. One part per trillion is one thousand times smaller than one part per billion.”
Scientists have concluded that forever chemicals are unsafe at virtually any level, including near zero. What’s more, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined in June that the chemicals can’t be measured with conventional lab techniques, because they’re so small, the Tribune reports.
The Jardine Water Purification Plant in Chicago. | Creative Commons/Wikipedia
The forever chemicals, however, are not only very small and long-lasting, they are pervasive.
“Forever chemicals end up in lakes, rivers and wells after flushing through sewage treatment plants and spreading from factory smokestacks,” the Tribune reported. “The chemicals also leach out of products such as carpets, clothing, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss, fast-food wrappers, firefighting foam, food packaging, microwave popcorn bags, paper plates, pizza boxes, rain jackets and ski wax.”
Still, despite the dangers, forever chemicals are largely unregulated, the Tribune added, which the U.S. EPA, “whose mission is to safeguard America’s health and environment,” repeatedly clearing “new versions of the chemistry without thoroughly assessing health risks or limiting their use. Chemical companies have declared that many PFAS formulas are trade secrets, making it difficult for scientists to identify the compounds and determine if they are harmful.”
According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. EPA has established 70 parts per trillion as the recommended limit for lifetime exposure to forever chemicals.
If there is a water advisory for PFAS or PFOS, you should refrain from boiling your water. Instead, follow the advice of your local municipal water authority regarding water usage.
In order to reduce your consumption of forever chemicals by using filter, make sure that the filters comply with standards set by the U.S. EPA, the NSF and other expert entities.