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Eman Shurbaji/MEDILL

An informal survey of six people in the Loop showed only one person drank tap water from the sink.

Chicago water doesn't satisfy all tastes

by Eman Shurbaji
Jun 11, 2014

A small, informal survey of pedestrians at Clark and Adams in the Loop found that most don't drink water straight from the tap, instead filtering it or purchasing bottled water.


Jonathan Wilson, a Chicago resident, said his family buys water bottles in bulk, because they worry about water safety.


“It’s just cleaner,” Wilson said.


Whether in Chicago or elsewhere, water and its safety is an issue that traces its roots to the beginning of time. Wars have been fought over water resources, and drinkable water is a sought-after commodity.


Sue Cotlinski lives in the suburbs, and insists on filtering at her kitchen sink.


“I use a Pur water filter and it has an attachment that filters out harmful minerals and most of the chemicals,” she said.


Most Chicago residents get their tap water from Lake Michigan, while 30 percent rely on ground water sources. The Jardine Water Purification Plant, on the lakefront in downtown Chicago, is the largest such plant in the world.


Part of the water purification process is chlorination. Chlorine is used to rid the water (especially surface water, like that of Lake Michigan) of microbes and residual bacteria.


The city chlorinates water at acceptable federal levels, with a maximum residual disinfectant level, or MRDL, of 4 parts per million.


Chlorination sanitizes water, but it may result in organic byproducts called trihalomethanes, THMs.  Recent scientific research and theories point to trihalomethanes as carcinogens, and a reason behind increasing cancer rates in the U.S.


Such byproducts, aesthetic preferences and taste are some reasons people in Chicago might choose to purchase water or buy a filter for home.


Some Chicagoans are purchasing sink filters or under-the-sink reverse osmosis, called RO, filters for their homes since filters work directly on water coming out of the tap.


Still, others surveyed said drinking from the tap is economical and convenient.


“It’s what we’ve always done,” Kathleen Morket said.


Chicago water and its quality: an issue that, quite literally, will continue to hit close to home.