Water in Chicago, IL

Chicago Water Needs Improvement

Learn How to Improve Your Home’s Water and Your Family’s Health

Is Chicago water safe to drink? The water is clean enough based on the Chicago Water Department standards. However, the stricter standards of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveal alarming levels of multiple contaminants.

Are you a Chicago resident looking to protect your family? Continue reading to learn:

  • Where Chicago sources its water
  • The pollutants found in Chicago water
  • Actions you can take to test and improve your home’s water
  • How Angel Water can help with every step to give you the water you deserve
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Where Does Chicago Water Come From?

The City of Chicago Water Department gets its water from Lake Michigan. It treats the water at two of the largest water processing plants in the world: the Jardine Water Purification Plant and the Sawyer Water Purification Plant. Both facilities use a set of filters and chemicals to eliminate debris and impurities from the water system. However, this mass processing technique doesn’t remove several harmful pollutants.

That said, the Chicago water system is impressive in its output. It services the city’s 2,700,000 residents. According to Chicago.gov, the city processes over a billion gallons of water each day. This water is used by homes and businesses throughout the greater Chicagoland area.

Chicago tests its water systems 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. It also publishes an annual Comprehensive Chemical Analysis that shows the chemical levels of the water for each quarter. The city ensures that its water exceeds the standards set forth by both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Illinois Pollution Control Board. However, these regulators are basing their standards on the outdated Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.

Does Chicago Have Hard Water?

Chicago water is hard. Water is considered hard when it contains 7-10.5 grains per gallon (gpg) of minerals like calcium and magnesium. According to CHI311, Chicago’s water averages between 7.6-8.8 gpg.

This often forces Chicago residents to deal with the many unpleasant symptoms that come with hard water, which can include:

To combat these symptoms, we recommend installing a water softener to remove the calcium and magnesium minerals from the water. You can learn more about water softeners below.

What’s in Chicago Drinking Water?

A recent review from the EWG reveals alarming levels of multiple contaminants in Chicago water. While these levels comply with the standards set by the EPA, compliant and safe are not the same thing. The EPA’s standards haven’t been changed since the 1990s, making them very outdated. We feel much more confident in the updated standards used by the EWG.

Chicago has numerous pollutants that exceed the EWG’s health and safety guidelines. You can view the results for these contaminants on the chart to the right and learn more about each of them below.

Contaminant Total EWG Recommended
Haloacetic Acids (HAA9) 19.1 ppb 0.06 ppb
Hexavalent Chromium 0.194 ppb 0.02 ppb
Nitrate and nitrite 0.346 ppb 0.14 ppb
Radium 226/228 0.67 pCi/L 0.05 pCi/L
Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) 21.1 ppb 0.15 ppb

Below is additional information on these and other contaminants found in Chicago water.

Haloacetic Acids (HAA9)

Haloacetic Acids are a byproduct of disinfecting water with chlorine and other products. Chlorine is a naturally occurring element but is unsafe for consumption after a certain limit.

All nine acids that make up HAA9 carry severe health risks, including cancer and prenatal complications. These acids are also genotoxic, meaning they can damage DNA and cause mutations when ingested at high enough volumes.

The EWG categorizes HAA9 as a group and individually. The acids within HAA9 that also exceeded EWG guidelines include:

  • Dibromoacetic acid – 16x the health guideline
  • Dichloroacetic acid – 26x the health guideline
  • Trichloroacetic acid – 45x the health guideline

Monobromoacetic acid is the only additional Haloacetic Acid found in the EWG’s report that did not exceed its health guidelines.

Hexavalent Chromium

Also shown as chromium-6, this contaminant has carcinogenic properties and is common in American drinking water because of industrial runoff. It’s also odorless and tasteless, making it undetectable for homeowners.

Chromium-6 is highly toxic and is known to cause the following health problems:

  • Increased risk of developing stomach cancer
  • Delays in bone development
  • Damage to the liver and reproductive system

You may be familiar with hexavalent chromium from the award-winning film, Erin Brockovich, which is based on actual events. Still to this day we’re fighting for greater public water standards to prevent stories like this from being our reality.

Nitrate and Nitrite

Nitrate and nitrite make their way into public drinking water through fertilizer, urban runoff and septic tanks. These two contaminants are known to cause cancer and harm to fetuses and children. Nitrite is a much more harmful toxin compared to nitrate.

Radium 226/228

Radium 226/228 occurs naturally in groundwater sources and can be produced by gas and oil extraction methods, like hydraulic fracturing. It can cause cancer since it’s a radioactive element. The primary side effect of over-exposure to radium is bone cancer, but it can also cause other types of cancer.

Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

The total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) are contaminants also known to cause cancer. There are four elements included in the TTHMs: bromodichloromethane, bromoform, chloroform and dibromochloromethane. The TTHMs develop in water systems as a result of chlorine and other disinfectants being used to purify the water.

The EWG’s examination of Chicago water found that the amount of total trihalomethanes was 141x greater than their standards. Individual levels of TTHMs that exceeded EWG standards include:

  • Bromodichloromethane – 123x the health guideline
  • Chloroform – 24x the health guideline
  • Dibromochloromethane – 42x the health guideline

The EWG also reports that bromoform was also found in Chicago public water but not at a level that exceeded its health standards.

Other Contaminants Detected

In addition to the above contaminants, the EWG reports detecting these impurities in Chicago water:

  • 4-Androstene-3,17-dione
  • Barium
  • Chromium (total)
  • Fluoride
  • Molybdenum
  • Strontium
  • Testosterone
  • Vanadium

None of these pollutants exceed the levels set forth by the EWG. However, they are still important to be aware of since many of them have been known to cause serious health risks.

For more information on the contaminants found in Chicago city water, we encourage you to visit the EWG’s Chicago page.

What Chicago Residents Can Do to Protect Their Health

Chicago water should be much cleaner and safer than it is. But you don’t have to settle for unhealthy water. Instead, take control of your water by following these four steps outlined below.

Step 1: Get Your Water Tested

It’s great to know the potential contaminants found in your community’s water. But testing your home’s water is the most appropriate way to develop a plan of action for purifying your drinking water.

You may find that your home’s water tests positive for different contaminants or different levels of contamination than the results we reported above. Having this clarity upfront will allow you to make the most informed decisions on which solutions will work best for cleaning your water.

Step 2: Consider a Reverse Osmosis System to Filter Your Water

A Reverse Osmosis (RO) system is the most robust water purification system available. It’s the solution we recommend most often for our Chicago customers since it can remove or significantly reduce all the contaminants that exceeded the EWG’s health guidelines:

  • Haloacetic acids
  • Hexavalent chromium
  • Nitrates and nitrites
  • Radium 226/228
  • Total trihalomethanes
  • And more!

The most effective RO systems are NSF/ANSI 58 certified. This certification ensures that the system will work as intended. Any RO system with this certification has gone through an intensive inspection process.

Step 3: Eliminate Hard Water with a Water Softener

Your water test will likely also reveal that you have hard water. We typically recommend salt-based water softeners to fix this problem. Salt-based water softeners exchange the minerals that cause hard water (i.e., calcium and magnesium) for sodium. The problems associated with hard water go away as a result.

Look for water softeners that are NSF/ANSI 44 certified to know for certain that your system will work. All water softeners claim to soften your water, but only NSF/ANSI 44 certified systems come backed by extensive testing.

Another great feature of softeners with this certification is that they can remove harmful contaminants like barium and radium 226/228.

Step 4: Have Your System Professionally Installed

Improper installation can result in your system not working effectively. Therefore, we always recommend that you hire a licensed plumber to install your equipment. Doing so will avoid any code violations since it’s required by Illinois law. It’s also the best way to ensure you and your family will enjoy the clean and healthy water you deserve for a long time.


Get Cleaner Water for Your Chicago Home!

We hope that this guide has you feeling more informed on how to obtain healthier tap water for your home. If you need help figuring out the best solution for your water or have any more questions, the team at Angel Water is here for you.

Our mission is to give people the clean water they deserve. We do this by providing free water testing, a wide selection of water treatment equipment and licensed installation and maintenance throughout Chicagoland.

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