To Your Health!: Don’t drink the well water

By Richard S. Gubbe

Some distressing, yet not-so-surprising, news came up from the well water in a northwest Rockford neighborhood. More bad well water found.

Will this be another Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disaster reminiscent of the sledge hammer that struck the southeast side in the 1980s? Property values have never recovered, and the health repercussions are still being felt. Add together the well problems north of town, and a pattern has developed: bad and/or incompetent people put bad things in the soil and water.

Stories like the one that arose on Soper north of Auburn Street and west of Central are becoming commonplace in Fabrication Valley. Winnebago County Health Department officials are looking into how the latest groundwater contaminants seeped into the area. Plenty of possibilities exist as to who could be responsible for this one in particular. The biggest question of all may not be who, but when.

Carcinogenic substances were found in two private wells on Soper. Whether they are volatile compounds that release devastating toxins into the water and air from paints, cleaning supplies or formaldehyde, or whether they contain benzene and gasoline will help steer officials as to which company is to blame. That’s little consolation to homeowners who are facing future economic hardship.

Winnebago County Health Department officials have joined with the Illinois Department of Public Health to determine the extent of the contamination. Larry Swacina, director of Environmental Health Services for the Winnebago County Health Department, was quoted in a news release: “At this point in time, we do not know for sure how extensive this groundwater contamination problem is. We are in the process of evaluating the extent and direction of flow of the VOC contaminate plume in the groundwater.”

The Winnebago County Health Department circulated informational fliers in the neighborhood bounded by Cottonwood Airport to the west; Alliance Avenue to the east; Auburn Street to the south; and to the end of the roads between Alliance Avenue and the Cottonwood Airport.

Gas stations were located nearby and the Amerock plant operated only a few hundred yards away. Benzene is common to both. Because it is a known carcinogen, the use of benzene as a gasoline additive is limited, but it is an important industrial solvent and precursor to basic industrial chemicals including drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber and dyes.

Was the contamination caused from leaks at the plant or from gasoline storage tanks, or was there deliberate dumping? Deliberate disposal into the ground or into the nearby creek water is unconscionable.

Having a leak and covering it up is the equivalent of murder. Cancer and leukemia kill people. When a child spills something, they’re taught to clean it up, not cover it up.

Having radioactive isotopes and other carcinogens in our water supply is directly related to cancer outbreaks, and few seem to care. After all, fabrication is the mainstay of Rockford.

Commercial electroplating of nickel, brass, tin and zinc were developed by the 1850s. Fabrication pollution is the by-product. The EPA dump site tags put on locations on the southeast side were devastating to the people who lived there. Face it, companies all around you dumped things into the ground, which, in turn, seeped into the aquifers below. How extensive is the damage?

Swacina said there is no concern that the contaminants are in public drinking supplies because Rockford city water is drawn from deep wells.

The city’s supply isn’t the cleanliest solution. City water has a laundry list of unwanted particles, all deemed within the necessary limits by law.

The solution is to take matters into your own hands. Step one is to not drink from a well or move away. Step two is to substitute cleaner water for city water by filtering it more.

Having worked at Amerock and taken part in the chemical onslaught that went on for decades of shift after shift, this latest discovery does not come as a shock.

It’s too soon to know where the pollution is coming from or even how big the problem is, but as of now, about 100 residents are affected. The county will be testing more wells. If your well water smells or tastes unusual, call the health department.

And pray you don’t become part of the next EPA site.

Richard Gubbe is an award-winning journalist, public relations specialist and Reiki Master Teacher. He is a long-time Rockford resident who has taught preventive health, visualization and Reiki at Rock Valley College since 2003.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2011, issue

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