Schaumburg’s Water Quality

by Keith Nawls
(December 2011)

Not much sounds more tempting on a scorching summer day than a ice cold glassful of the nectar of the gods. That is, water. Greek mythology has it that water sustained beauty and immortality. Water is the clear colorless liquid, odorless and tasteless when pure, that occurs as rain, snow, and ice, forms rivers, lakes, and seas, and is essential for life. How inviting those thoughts are absent any question of whether those qualities apply in all cases!

When we consider any small town or suburb surrounding a large metropolis, can they be confident that what they are receiving, legally siphoned off from larger watersheds, meets any or all of those descriptions? If we stop with just the first word of the stated definition “clear” we might ask the question. Is the water — say, in the suburb of Schaumburg — really clear?

The Village of Schaumburg’s public water supply is purportedly “one of the highest rated water systems with the highest rated water quality in the country.” This claim is readily announced on the website. How much faith, though, can we afford to put into the claims that emanates from the same source that publishes an annual quality report that it readily admits is basically a reprint from year to year? As the Village’s 2011 Water Quality Report states, “You may notice that most of the wording in this year’s report is identical to last year’s report”? That is because the wording is mandated by the EPA and must be put in the report every year” (p. 2). As with the case of any other municipality, it is incumbent upon citizens to review the details of the annual water reports and query Village officials if they have questions. It is also recommended that water quality testing results are compared to relevant results in other communities, such as the City of Chicago (which in this case supplies Schaumburg with its freshwater).

Do we really understand how common contamination really is? Are we being given enough background information to make an educated decision of whether to put our trust in what little we have been told in the past? Since the 1970s, “every state in the nation has reported cases of contaminated ground water.” In 1990 the EPA reported that “10 percent of all groundwater public supply systems are in violation of drinking water standards for biological contamination. In addition, approximately 74 pesticides, a number of which are known carcinogens, have been detected in the ground water of 38 states” (Gallagher, 1990, p. 3). Do we know whether the state in which we live is one of the 38 states?

It is not just the job of the city or state government agencies to police the safety of the water we drink. As Aldo Leopold would say, we need a land ethic, “a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” We might, if wholly educated, choose to halt our habitual infestation of waterways by properly disposing of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Would it be difficult to change the way we view expired pills? Might we be more mindful of discarding “consumer products, such as cosmetics fragrances, lotions, sunscreens, and house cleaning products”? Schaumburg’s Quality 2011 Annual Water Report expresses clear concern over these and like products being carelessly flushed down toilets and discarded recklessly. That report also attempts to allay some of our fears of “small amounts of some contaminants” assuring us that “the presence of these contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk” (p. 4).

The Village of Schaumburg is doing things to combat the problem and actively enlisting the active participation of the community. Just outside the Schaumburg Police Department at 1000 W. Schaumburg Road they have placed an RxBOX. The purpose of the box is to be a solution to disposing of medication that in their words “may otherwise pollute our environment if disposed of in the trash or in our water supply.” I commend them for the idea as well as the alert this gives to the community.

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