Where Do These Contaminants Come From, Anyway?

Water treatment often fails to remove many of the contaminants found in water supplies in Chicagoland. However, where do these pollutants come from in the first place? Here’s a rundown of the origins of some of the most common contaminants in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Learn About the Pollutants that Municipal Water Treatment MissesPhoto of an industrial facility producing contaminants that require water treatment to remove.

Here at Angel Water, we often talk about all the many various contaminants that infect your drinking water. Lead, mercury, bacteria—without water treatment, all these and other toxins may be present in the water you and your family drink every day. Where do these contaminants come from in the first place, though?

Here’s a breakdown of the origins of the most commonly found contaminants in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Contaminants in Chicago Water

Water treatment in Chicago leaves much to be desired. Apart from all the industrial operations in close vicinity spewing all sorts of pollutants, there are also contaminants seeping up through the ground and leaching in from outdated plumbing. Take a look:

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  • Radium– This radioactive element is naturally-occurring in the environment. It steadily seeps up through the ground and leaches into the water supply that way.
    An infographic depicting where various contaminants come from.
    Click for full-size infographic.
  • Mercury– This carcinogenic heavy metal is produced by the many coal-fired power plants lining the shores of Lake Michigan, where we get our drinking water. It travels upward in the smoke these facilities produce, and later reaches the lake through precipitation.
  • Lead– Until it was banned from commercial use in 1986, all new plumbing contained this toxic element. However, the ban didn’t require the city to get rid of all the existing lead-based plumbing and water mains. As a result, an estimated 80% of Chicago properties draw water from lead-based water mains. Construction often disturbs the mains’ liners, allowing lead to leach into your water just before it reaches your home.
  • Chromium– You may recognize this toxic element from the film Erin Brockovich. This contaminant originates from industrial runoff, and contaminates water supplies in areas with weakly enforced regulations.

Contaminants in Suburban Water

While water treatment in Chicago has its problems, water treatment in the suburbs often isn’t much better. Many suburbs get their drinking water from Lake Michigan through Chicago and suffer the same problems. Other towns that get their water elsewhere experience their own issues. Here are some highlights:

  • Radium– Just like in Chicago, the suburbs also have radium naturally seeping up through the soil.
  • Nitrates– These pollutants reach drinking water supplies due to both industrial and agricultural runoff. See this fact sheet for more on this contaminant.
  • Vinyl chloride– This chemical is leaked into local water supplies via a variety of different kinds of human activity. Part of Wauconda had its drinking water tainted by a landfill. Crestwood’s water was mixed with water from a tainted well due to the mayor’s poor decisions. McCullom Lake’s drinking water was contaminated by a leaky chemical waste pit. All three of these contained vinyl chloride.
  • Coliform bacteria– This type of bacteria occurs naturally in soil, surface water, plants, and fecal matter. However, it becomes a problem when it starts to collect in wells. If you drink well water, this may be something to look out for.

Protect Yourself with Testing and Water Treatment

As you can see, various areas throughout Chicagoland experience distinct issues with their water due to contaminants coming from different sources. To truly know that your water is safe to drink and cook with, you should test your water and then take steps to make sure it’s treated for whatever contaminants are in your area.

Angel Water is Chicagoland’s premier water treatment company, and has been providing local communities with water treatment and testing services for decades. To have your water tested for contaminants and figure out your next steps to achieve clean, healthy water, give us a call at (847) 382-7800. Our water experts are always happy to share what they know!

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