Rock, Kishwaukee, Sugar and Pecatonica rivers ‘impaired’

Rock, Kishwaukee, Sugar and Pecatonica rivers ‘impaired’

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) new list, the Rock, Sugar, Pecatonica, and Kishwaukee rivers are “impaired.”

This means that those rivers are polluted with unacceptable levels of substances. Examples of substances on the list include heavy metals, phosphorus, silt, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB).

Heavy metals and PCBs in the environment have a variety of negative effects on humans, wildlife, and other organisms throughout the food-chain. There are no known positive effects of artificially placed heavy metals and PCBs in the environment. These contaminants usually come from industrial sources.

Phosphorus’ primary effect on the environment is that it stimulates the growth of algae in water. Over abundant growths of algae set off a cascade of events that ultimately leads to lower levels of oxygen in the water. These lower levels of oxygen in the water means that less life can be supported in that ecosystem. Lawn fertilizers, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and sewage are often sources for high levels of phosphorus.

High levels of silt or sediment in the water also lead to lower concentrations of oxygen in the water. Topsoil runoff from agriculture and development areas are prime sources for high levels of silt.

Some of these facts were presented at a joint press conference put on by Sierra Club officials and a representative of the Prairie Rivers Network. The press conference was held at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, on October 10th, to call attention to

the 30th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act.

Participants were Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Jack Darrin; Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s national Environmental Quality Program; and Marc Miller, watershed organizer for the Prairie Rivers Network.

According to Darrin, “great strides” have been made to address ground water and surface water quality issues since the federal Clean Water Act was signed in October, 1972. However, Darrin warns, the Bush administration is trying to weaken the Act.

Through a variety of methods, such as switching some mandates to be voluntary, changing which type of waters that are covered by the Act, and relaxing existing standards, Hopkins views such actions, by the Bush administration, as steps that will result in increasing pollution in water.

In addition, the groups expressed their concern about emerging issues, such as the noticeable levels of caffeine, antibiotics and steroids found in surface waters. These substances have yet-to-be determined effects on the ecosystem. Antibiotics are found in many types of hand soaps. Caffeine is found in many types of coffee and soda, and has known stimulatory effects on plants and animals. And steroids, such as synthetic progesterone and estrogen from birth control pills, all eventually find their way into lakes, rivers and streams.

People who eat fish from these waters are urged to do so in moderation to prevent negative health effects.

Consumers should use great care if eating bottom-feeding fish, such as catfish and carp, in particular.

A draft IEPA list of the impaired waters is available at:

Also, look for local high school student Quinton Hamp’s article “PCBs in our environment and food,” in our next issue.

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