Some towns in area testing above new PFAS, or forever chemicals, drinking water standard

Mark Rivera Image
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Some towns in area testing above new PFAS drinking water standard
Some towns in the Chicago area are testing above the new EPA PFAS, or forever chemicals, in drinking water standard, including Cary and Channahon.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Potential changes are coming to drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out a national standard, limiting so-called forever chemicals.

There is no safe level of forever chemicals in water, just like there's no safe level of lead in drinking water, but experts in Illinois say this new federal rule is a crucial step to reduce these dangerous chemicals that can severely impact health.

"This is a set of chemicals that has been used in cookware, fire retardant foam, all kinds of things that permeate our society," said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

They're in Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and many water systems throughout the state and country.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances from garbage and pollution, don't break down in the environment, and can cause cancers and other major health issues.

Learner said this new rule to monitor and reduce six of those dangerous chemicals is critical.

"There are a lot of communities in Illinois where, unfortunately, there's too much PFAS contamination in the drinking water supply," Learner said.

"We're starting with this six, because with this six we have the best science and data to design these health standards," an EPA administrator said. "So what EPA is doing is we're measuring twice, and we're cutting once. This is the first of six, and we're going to continue until we get to all of them."

On Wednesday, the EPA announced new guidelines for acceptable levels of PFAS in water systems and a billion dollars of investment to help communities monitor and reduce those chemicals over the next five years.

"Communities are not going to be left hanging, but water utilities are being told for the first time from the federal government, 'hey, we've had enough when it comes to PFAS,'" Learner said.

According to data from the Illinois EPA, there are a number of towns in the Chicago area that have tested above those new federal levels, including Cary, Channahon, Crest Hill, Fox Lake, Marengo and more.

"Forever chemicals pollute the water of perhaps half of all Americans right now," said William Dichtel, a Northwestern University chemistry professor.

But, there is a potential solution: new technology created at Northwestern University by Dichtel to attract and trap PFAS.

"The goal of the reaction is that we are trying to create polymer beads that can remove forever chemicals from the water," Dichtel said.

A pilot project with that research is ongoing now at Chicago's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

The work is vital for Illinois populations, as communities deal with negative health effects.

The Illinois EPA said in a statement: "Illinois EPA supports the action taken by U.S. EPA to introduce the first national drinking water standards for some Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS in drinking water is a nationwide issue, and as a result, Illinois EPA took a proactive approach in 2020-2021 through an independent statewide investigation into the prevalence and occurrence of PFAS in finished water at each of Illinois' 1,749 community water supplies (CWSs). That work was undertaken to assess existing conditions as well as help determine best next steps to further protect our state's drinking water supply. U.S. EPA has helped all states with today's announcement of establishing maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards at the national level. Illinois EPA is reviewing the information provided to states, and we will also look closely at the valuable existing data we have resulting from our statewide investigation to determine the potential impact for Illinois CWSs. While individual community water supplies do have time to begin monitoring and eventually comply with the new standards, Illinois EPA will work closely with U.S. EPA and our CWSs to address any concerns and ultimately reduce impact s from these chemicals in drinking water. In addition, Illinois EPA is working to determine how this will impact the pending Groundwater Standards for PFAS that are currently pending before the Illinois Pollution Control Board."