Ekbergs comment on water quality problem—part 1

Dean and Glen Ekberg talked to The Rock River Times recently. They have a different slant on Rockford’s water problems. They had attended the Pagel Pit expansion hearings in the fall of 2005. Dean Ekberg is a Ph.D. candidate at Northern Illinois University in hydrogeology (studying the groundwater) of north central Illinois.

Glen Ekberg said he felt current Mayor Larry Morrissey had inherited the water situation from the previous administrations of Charles Box and Doug Scott. Scott has since been appointed director of the Illinois EPA.

They call particular attention to the area identified as Area 11—the northeast quadrant of 11th Street and Harrison Avenue. Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM) is the contractor for the EPA. A study of Rockford’s water was done starting in 1989 at EPA’s request. The result was that EPA recommended “no action” on Area 11, which the Ekbergs claim is “the worst area in Rockford.” They note that the EPA Web site says that Area 7 is the worst, and part of it includes the Ekberg farm. Area 11 shows 4 million ppb of contaminants on the CDM tests.

Dean Ekberg said, “At its worst, it [the contamination] was 14 ppm (parts per million) in Area 7. They’ve been saying that Area 7 is the worst polluted since 1997.” Glen added, “They are trying to treat us as the scapegoat.” But, he says, the Ekbergs had nothing to do with the pollution. Most of it was from various (manufacturing) industries back in the ’50s and ’60s. Area 7 in the CDM reports shows only 1,000 ppb as of the latest testing in 2003.

The unaddressed problem: solvents

“The basic problems they outline in the water quality report is the radium,” said Glen Ekberg. “We tested the tap water in southeast Rockford, and there were two businesses that had over the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) for solvents. The tap water is above the MCLs now. Obviously, Larry Morrissey inherited this stuff. He’s trying to make the best of the situation.” Dean concurred.

Glen Ekberg said, “Radium is the only thing that the Rockford Water Department addresses. That’s not really the problem.”

“There are other solvents,” admitted Glen, “But particularly in those two industries [in southeast Rockford], we found PCE and TCA. They [City of Rockford] say the highest level detected was 2.77 ppb. The MCL is 5. But we found stuff in those businesses that was around 10—about double the allowable rate.”

“The other solvent we found is chloroform,” said Dean, “the biggest problem. The chloroform was much more than that. We tested tap water in southeast Rockford, and the chloroform was well over 70 ppb, which is about 150 times the recommended allowable limit.” (There is no mention of chloroform in the 2006 water quality report.)

Glen explained, “Chloroform is one of the most toxic chemicals the EPA tracks. They list it under TTHM—total trihalomethane—of which chloroform is one of the constituents. We detected around 80 ppb. That’s the MCL for total trihalomethane. Chloroform is trichloromethane. What the water industry doesn’t want is for chloroform to be regulated individually—to have an individual standard. There is a recommendation for chloroform (trichloromethane), and it is very low—0.1 ppb.”

The Ekbergs agreed that this is a deficiency in the water quality report. “People need to know that there is a need to address this,” said Dean. “Chloroform is a solvent, but there are others. Chloroform is one of the most deadly chemicals the EPA tracks in water. Chlorine is extremely reactive to human tissue.

“What we found,” explained Dean, “is that in southeast Rockford, the tap water was tested, and we found over 70 ppb of choloroform. The recommended level set by the EPA is 100 parts per trillion—0.1 part per billion, which is .0001 part per million. We tested seven tap water locations in southeast Rockford, and all seven were over the limit. The average was about 25 parts per billion. The standard is 0.1, which is the EPA recommended limit.”

The Ekbergs noted that chloroform is no longer used medically because of the toxic side effects. The major medical problems involve liver, kidney and lung damage as well as pregnancy complications. (“Chloroform in the Hydrologic System—Sources, Transport, Fate, Occurrence, and Effects on Human Health and Aquatic Organisms,” USGS, 2004)

Probable carcinogen

According to the EPA, chloroform is a probable carcinogen; it is a manmade chemical byproduct of chlorination. The EPA believes that the main cause of chloroform in city water supplies is the method of chlorination.

The 2006 Water Quality Report mentions trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE, also known as perchloroethylene) but does not isolate chloroform as an ingredient. Chlorine is an extremely reactive element. TCE and PCE are probable carcinogens, according to the EPA (USEPA 1989 and 1991 Operable Unit & Phase I Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study—Southeast Rockford Superfund) and were found in tap water in southeast Rockford.

Problem areas noted

The Ekbergs noted that the two main problem areas were 11th Street and Harrison Avenue, and at Peoples Avenue. The Peoples Avenue site has now become part of the IPC Superfund. The Ekbergs recalled that both senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama went on record about three weeks ago as opposing the delisting of IPC and Parson’s Casket in Belvidere sites.

Dean commented: “They want to spend $7 million to clean up Area 7. It doesn’t need to be cleaned up. They’re not helping the people of Rockford.”

Both Ekbergs felt that, instead of wasting $7 million on Area 7 where it is not needed, the money should be spent to install carbon filters on all the city wells. “That would really help the people of Rockford,” said Dean. “They should start with the ones in southeast Rockford. They talk about rust; iron is not the problem. The problem is chloroform and the other solvents.”

Both Ekbergs were adamant that solvents in our water are a major problem. “Get the solvents out of the city water system,” said Glen. “That will most impact the water problem in the city and improve the health of the people. The biggest issue I see is the chloroform in the city water supply. That’s the big 2-ton gorilla that everyone pretends isn’t there.”

Carbon filters a viable solution

The Ekbergs explained that “these chemicals (TCE, PCE and chloroform) can be removed by putting a carbon filter on all city water wells. It should start with southeast Rockford.” Dean Ekberg advised: “The money that has been collected from taxpayers in Rockford, rather than being used for Area 7, which is cleaning itself up, should be used for installing activated carbon filters, commercial grade. What was found by the EPA is that the worst problem in southeast Rockford is Area 11,” where the EPA declared ironically that no action should be taken on the groundwater. According to EPA data, the northeast corner of 11th Street and Harrison Avenue is the worst—having more than 4 million ppb of contaminants.

But in Area 7, the data show, from 1993 to 2003, the contaminants declined more than 85 percent. The maximum contaminant concentration was only 14,000 ppb from one well and declined to 1,500 ppb. The Ekbergs said they wanted additional tests run in 2006. They made their request to the Environmental Enforcement Division of the U.S. Justice Department this spring, asking to have samples taken this summer, to show how much further it had been reduced. Dean said, “We believe it is within the drinking water standard, or close to it, now.”

But their request received no encouragement from the Justice Department. The lead prosecutor for the Environment Enforcement Division, which has been investigating the southeast Rockford Superfund site, told the Ekbergs unequivocally, “Over my dead body.”

From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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