Water Quality in Chicago, Illinois
Watershed: South Branch Chicago River – Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (surface water)
What is the water quality like in Chicago, IL?
Let’s dive deeper into what’s in Chicago water.
What’s in Chicago water?
Here are the top 5 chemical compounds in your water and what health issues they can potentially cause:
- Bromodichloromethane – Potential effect: Cancer
- Chloroform – Potential effect: Cancer
- Haloacetic acids – Potential effect: Cancer
- Hexavalent Chromium – Potential effect: Cancer
- Total trihalomethanes – Potential effect: Cancer
These are five of the 20 contaminants analyzed by the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org).
12 of these contaminants are rated as exceeding EWG Health Guidelines.
See the What Can You Do? section below for all of the contaminants you can filter out and how to do it.
Where does Chicago’s water come from?
Chicago’s water comes from the South Branch Chicago River – Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal watershed.
All 11 EPA assessed water sources in the South Branch Chicago River – Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal watershed are in Impaired or Unknown condition. These include:
- Chicago River
- Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal – 2 segments
- Columbus Park Lagoon
- Douglas Park Lagoon
- Garfield Park Lagoon
- Marquette Park Lagoon
- McKinley Park Lagoon
- Sherman Park Lagoon
- South Branch Chicago River
- South Fork South Branch Chicago River
Ideally, a water source would be rated in Good condition.
Whether a water source is in Impaired or Good condition refers to the quality of these uses:
- Drinking Water
- Aquatic Life
- Fish and Shellfish Consumption
Learn more from How’s My Waterway
See below for what you can do to improve Chicago’s water.
Conclusion – What Can You Do?
Information about water quality can be surprising.
But there’s no reason to lose hope. There are things you can do in your household as well as things you can do at a community level.
In Your Household:
- Use Berkey water filters with activated carbon to filter out 16 of the 20 contaminants in your drinking water.
- Berkey filters can also remove up to 99.99% of Lead in Chicago water.
- Brita can filter 12 contaminants (and Lead depending on the filter).
- Note: We may receive a commission if you decide to purchase filters through links on this page.
- To filter out 19 of the 20 contaminants, consider a Reverse Osmosis water filtration system for your house.
- These are more expensive than pitchers to purchase, but can be more effective.
- They have the benefit of filtering out heavy hitters like:
- Barium – In low doses, barium ions act as a muscle stimulant, and higher doses affect the nervous system, causing cardiac irregularities, tremors, weakness, anxiety, shortness of breath, and paralysis.
- Bromodichloromethane – health risks in drinking water
- Chloroform – side effects
- Chromium (total)
- Dibromoacetic acid
- Dichloroacetic acid
- Haloacetic acids – chlorination byproduct*
- Hexavalent chromium – health effects
- Total trihalomethanes – byproduct of chlorination*
- Trichloroacetic acid
*Chlorination is an effective method of disinfecting/treating drinking water. You can then use a water filter to reduce the effects of chlorination byproducts to get the safest, cleanest water possible.
In Your Community:
Contact your local government officials and put pressure on them to invest in cleaner waterways and upgraded city water filtration and treatment.
Go to: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en.html to find contact information for your local officials.