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State's water imperils mothers, activists say

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicago Sun-Times, Gary Wisby
Published January 9, 2002

Chlorination of tap water puts thousands of Illinois women at risk of miscarriage or birth defects, according to a report released by environmental activists Tuesday.

With 7,299 pregnancies at risk, the state ranks sixth in the country, states the report, “Consider the Source,” by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group and the Environmental Working Group.

Five Illinois cities ranked in the top 100 nationwide. Kankakee was No. 38, with 76 percent of pregnancies at risk. Aurora was No. 24 with 54 percent, East St. Louis was No. 35 with 34 percent, Decatur was No. 62 with 29 percent and Springfield was No. 58 with 17 percent. Chlorination is a good thing, the report acknowledged, and no one is suggesting getting rid of it. The process saves thousands of lives each year by killing waterborne disease. But chemical byproducts occur in drinking water as a result of chlorination, Illinois PIRG said.

In addition to problem pregnancies, contamination by chlorination byproducts has been linked to 9,300 cases of bladder cancer a year, and to a dozen other cancers, including brain and breast cancer.

“We cannot chlorinate our way to safe drinking water,” Illinois PIRG’s Dave Weiner said.

He called for immediate action to clean up the lakes and rivers that provide drinking water. This can be done by reducing the soil erosion and the nutrient and animal waste runoff from farms and feedlots that increase the need for chlorination.

The two environmental groups also recommend a federally coordinated nationwide health tracking network that would cost $275 million a year.

Only nine states–not including Illinois–have active, well-funded programs to keep track of birth defects. Illinois relies on passive tracking, which may account for as little as 10 percent of actual birth defects, Illinois PIRG said.

Chlorination exposes at least 1,000 women a year in each of 24 states and the District of Columbia to increased risk for birth defects and miscarriage. At 7,299 women, Illinois trails Texas (26,525), Pennsylvania (18,419), Maryland (14,177), New Jersey (10,456) and Massachusetts (9,077).

First tried in Philadelphia in 1910, chlorination is the most common method of wastewater disinfection. It has virtually eliminated cholera, typhoid and dysentery in this country,
and is considered one of the most significant public health advances of the 20th century.


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