Is Your Water Making You Sick?
Is Your Water Making You Sick?
A quick Google search about water yields over a thousand quotes lamenting waters’ beautiful, life-giving properties. Next to air, what is more important than water?
We discovered in a previous post that we need to drink about 1 quart of water per 50 lbs of body weight a day (staying under 3 quarts) to stay healthy. However, consuming contaminated water isn’t going to do anyone any good. In many areas of the United States, including Chicago, the tap water contains contaminants that should be avoided. Now that is a BIG problem!
As water comes in from Lake Michigan, it is treated at a facility where additives like chlorine (a disinfectant used to kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa) and fluoride (used to prevent tooth decay) are added. The treated water is then sent off through lead service lines before it pours out of the faucet. It may look clean, but is it?
Unfortunately, even with water treatment dangerous bacteria outbreaks still occur. For example, in Flint, a Legionnaires outbreak killed 12 people in 2017.
However, for the most part, it’s not likely we will get sick immediately due to bacteria or viruses in the water.
But what are the health implications of drinking unfiltered municipal tap water? Could constant exposure to pollutants in our water over the period of years have drastic consequences on our health?
How Toxic Is Our Tap Water?
Unfortunately, many people in the US unknowingly consume contaminated water on a daily basis. The lead (a toxic metal causing adverse health effects at any level) concentration in the water of Chicago and the state of Illinois is so high that the EPA recommends running the tap for 5 minutes before drinking water because more lead will be flushed out that way. However, that can’t be an acceptable solution to the problem.
High Lead Quantities In Chicago Water
There is a growing concern about the high levels of lead in the Chicago and Illinois area water supply. According to the Chicago Tribune, nine water systems in the Chicago region exceeded EPA standards for lead in 2016. These water systems had more than 15 ppb of lead in the tap water. While 15 ppb may not seem that high, it is, as any level of lead is toxic. It is so toxic that the Federal Government banned lead service lines in 1986 (so homes built after that are likely OK) however approximately 80% of Chicagoans still have lead service lines.
Unfortunately, this isn’t even the worst of it, amounts as high as 40 ppb of lead have been found in water in at least 1 out of every 10 water systems in Illinois. For this reason alone, we recommend that you don’t drink the water from the tap unless it has been filtered first.
Also important to note here is that service line disruption (construction work) can substantially increase the amount of lead in water flowing to affected houses. In most cases, you will get a flyer letting you know about the increased risk due to construction in the area. However, there have been reported instances where this notification may not have been received by homeowners.
2019 Update: New Story, Same Problem
According to a July 2019 story posted on the WGN9 website, the city of Chicago has suspended all water meter installations because of a dramatic spike in lead contamination. A report conducted by the city of Chicago tested 510 homes since 2017 and found that “22% had elevated lead levels in tap water, and 7% had spikes that were three times higher than the FDA standard for bottled water.”
Why the sudden spike in lead contamination? Experts believe that the spike in lead correlates with the increase in local construction projects. Contamination from construction sites is leaking into the water supply. Which begs the question…
What To Do About The Lead Problem?
Ideally, don’t drink unfiltered tap water. Individuals who have no other option but to drink tap water should run their tap for even more than the recommended 5 minutes if there is water main or service line work in the area. Homeowners can also call 311 to request a test kit at no charge, buy a lead test kit at the local hardware store, or have an independent lab certified in lead testing perform an analysis for $20 to $100.
What Else Is In The Municipal Water Supply?
Realize that many municipalities, including Chicago, don’t test for many hazardous elements that are in the water supply because they are unregulated and no limits have been set. Although Chicago sends samples to three different labs (from both source and end product), different labs use different reference ranges and methods, so there are no actual guidelines at this point. Recently, Chicago reported the following EDC’s (endocrine disrupting chemicals) and PPCPs (pharmaceutical and personal care products) detection frequency.
Compounds In The Water With High Frequency Of Detection
Compounds With Medium Frequency Of Detection
Compounds With Low Frequency Of Detection
If you are still reading this (and not at the store buying a water filter) consider this …
Chicago Drinking Water Has Unsafe Levels Of Chromium-6
If the high lead levels and all these other chemicals in the water weren’t enough, Chicago tap water also contains chromium-6, a chemical that causes cancer. Yes, this is the same chemical made famous in the movie, Erin Brockovich. Sadly, not only Chicago has this problem, as an estimated 2/3 of Americans are at risk for this chemical in municipalities across the nation. While chromium-6 contamination can occur naturally, accidental industrial spills like what happened with US Steel this past April 20 at the 68th street drinking water intake and legal dumping of chromium-6 into our waterways are the real sources of the problem.
How Much Is Chromium-6 In The Water?
As stated in the cityofchicago.org, “Low levels of hexavalent chromium (0.16 – 0.25 µg/L) were detected in all samples analyzed, including raw Lake Michigan water, finished water at the plants, and finished water at various distribution points in the city. This compound appears to be persistent throughout the system at very low levels. USEPA has not yet established a standard for this compound.”
Truthfully, there is no safe level for chromium-6.
According to the environmental working groups new water guide, (which I highly recommend), my zip code in Chicago currently yields 9 contaminants above health guidelines in addition to 10 others that were detected. While my house has a reverse osmosis filter, if we drink the water at the park, school, or library, we’ll also be getting a dose of bromodichloromethane, chloroform, hexavalent chromium, dibromocloromethane, dichloroacetic acid, radiological contaminants, total trihalomethanes, and trichloroacetic acid with a topper of hormones.
If you are wondering how to get all this out of your water and promising yourself you will never leave home again without your water bottle full of clean water, check out our health tips about choosing quality water filters that can remove most of the pollutants.
PS. The water station available in our office is Reverse Osmosis, and you are welcome to refill your water bottle with clean water during your visits.
References and Further Reading: