Water Contamination Issues in IL

by Jacob Pearson

The Clean Water Act of 1972 and the IEPA Water Quality Programs

Under the Illinois Constitution, Congress established the Clean Water Act of 1972 in order to prevent further water contamination and maintain healthy waterways in the state. As the act originally intended, the contamination of waterways was to be completely abolished by the year of 1985, but the effort did not follow through as planned. Today, the government, citizens, and the Environmental Protection Agency continue to stress the importance of clean water under the Clean Water Act.


In addition to the Clean Water Act, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) promotes the protection of water sources in order to preserve their benefits. These include protection of aquatic life and maintenance for recreation, navigation, and agricultural purposes.


It is hoped that by gaining awareness of both the Clean Water Act and the water quality programs, it can lead to the first steps in lowering water pollution levels. Without these regulations, water contamination will only continue to increase.

Big image

Contamination in Illinois Water Resources

Big image
While many environmental preservation efforts are carried out by the state and its inhabitants, the many waterways and bodies of water in Illinois are constantly being contaminated by individuals and companies. These processes of contamination can be from agricultural pollutants, runoff, erosion, mining, and industrial waste. Some nearby contaminated water resources in Illinois include:


  • Clinton Lake
  • Des Plaines River
  • Fox River
  • Kaskaskia River
  • Lake Decatur
  • Ohio River
  • Sangamon River
  • Illinois River
  • Lake Springfield


All of these water sources have received water quality ratings from the IEPA of either "fair" or "poor". Many of these water resources are said to be "severely impaired and [are unable to] support a designated use." These water quality readings show that water contamination is very widespread, but where is most of this pollution coming from?

Industrial Pollution of Illinois Waterways

Big image
As the IEPA and other groups' studies show, one of the largest sources of water contamination is pollution from industrial waste discharge. On the map shown above, data from nearly 200,000 industries was collected. The orange plots on the map represent industrial facilities that are committing environmental violations with water contamination. With these frequent environmental violations, the water resources of Illinois are becoming increasingly contaminated. Two years ago, over 6 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released by industries into the state's waterways. This doesn't even include the over 200 million pounds of chemicals released nationwide around that same time, which then have the potential to flow into Illinois bodies of water.


An example of industrial discharge into waterways is the constant release of coal ash near the Illinois River as conducted by the E.D. Edwards plant. This water pollution has created a toxic and heavily contaminated setting of groundwater. This process has led to continued contamination with the addition of other toxic metals, such as arsenic and mercury.


These industrial wastes can furthermore include poisonous chemicals, animal waste, fuels, and countless other threatening substances. They cause significant harm to the waterways themselves, the life that inhabits them, and the residents of the state that use these water sources for many purposes. The Environment Illinois Research & Education Center stated that many waterways are not safe for use by people, specifically when used for recreation and drinking water.

Lead, Bacteria, and Other Harmful Substances in Chicago Water

With this serious contamination of Illinois waterways, it can further affect the population in many ways, such as polluting drinking water. Today, the drinking water of nearly 1.6 million residents of Illinois is at risk of pollution, and therefore, it can be unsafe to drink. As primary reports from the EPA show, high levels of lead were present Chicago in the years of 2011 and 2012. This lead content, which was found to come from lead service lines, is a serious health risk for those who use it and consume it in drinking water. Such health risks from lead and other toxic chemicals include increased chance of birth defects, different cancers, and other fatal illnesses.


Furthermore, the Chicago River has been found to contain harmful bacteria due to its interaction with sewage. In comparison to waterways throughout the US, the bacteria concentration in the Chicago River is much greater. This can be a major health risk when used for recreational purposes as well as for drinking water. In coming into contact with this bacteria ridden water, many diseases can be spread to the population, such as E. Coli.

How to Maintain Healthy Water Quality and Prevent Further Contamination

As expressed by the EPA, the first steps to maintaining healthy water quality levels is by encouraging the state to increasingly follow the regulations of the Clean Water Act and the IEPA water quality programs. These programs will eventually help to lessen the pollution of Illinois waterways. By following these regulations, individuals can simply refrain from littering in water resources.


However, in order to extend this healthy water maintenance and prevent further contamination of waterways, many more extensive procedures will have to be performed. Industries will need to end their use of toxic chemicals, such as the previously mentioned lead and mercury, and instead find alternative resources and fuels for their needed operations. It will be required that human waste and similar substances be disinfected before being released into water resources. These sewage overflows will altogether need to be ceased completely as well.


Once these measures can one day be ensured, the water resources of Illinois and the country as a whole can be protected and kept healthy. The EPA Bureau of Water states that the waterways will then have to be monitored continuously to ensure a healthy environmental quality. By maintaining the water in the environment, all waters can be healthy, "fishable, and swimmable" for the Illinois population.