By Bob Balgemann


Well No. 3 no longer is providing drinking water to city customers due to the presence of PFAS–Per- and Polyfluoroalkl Substances–in concentrations exceeding guidance levels established by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

Public Works Director Brent Anderson recently made Mayor Mike Chamberlain and aldermen aware of that situation in a memorandum. He also informed city water system customers that Well No. 3 was the only Belvidere well found in IEPA testing to exceed its draft guidance levels.

Here is the problem and in his report, Anderson said it’s likely that this subject will be talked about for some time to come.

The PFAS guidance levels from the IEPA do not have the force of law, he said, but that likely will happen in the near future.

“PFAS are a group of chemicals that are commonly used in food packaging, commercial household products, and various common manufacturing and commercial industries,” he explained. “While there is no definitive link between PFAS products and health, the IEPA and federal EPA have identified adverse health effects in animals. They do not have a definitive formula determining what level of exposure would be necessary to establish adverse health effects in humans.”

The federal EPA has established a health advisory for two PFAS chemicals including PFOA and PFOS and recommends limiting exposure in drinking water to 70 parts per trillion. He emphasized that limit, saying it was not parts per million or parts per billion, but parts per trillion.

A further point of emphasis was IEPA has more strict recommendations than the federal EPA, he said, with a guidance level of two parts per trillion for PFOA and 14 parts per trillion for PFOS.

As far as Belvidere wells are concerned, he said he had been notified by IEPA that only one well, No. 3, had PFOA concentrations exceeding the state’s guidance levels. All other wells and all other PFAS fell within IEPA’s current guidance levels.

Industrial area

The director said Well No. 3 was the oldest of the city wells, being drilled in the 1910s down at the water plant, 210 Whitney Ave.

“History-wise, that was in the middle of the industrial district back at the turn of the century,” he said. “It’s not surprising that PFAS would be showing up in that water, given what was done there.

“PFAS are a wide suite of chemicals that were produced. They’re all man-made chemicals that were used in just about everything. If you Google PFAS, you can get a quick education on all this stuff.

“PFAS seem to be coming into its own. I think it’s going to be a long process and affect a lot of things, probably more than just water. It’s going to be a topic that’s discussed frequently.”

IEPA is going to all public water supply agencies in the state and doing sample PFAS testing in all water wells, he added. Currently, Belvidere Wells No. 4 and 5 have not been tested because they are shut down for repairs and rehabilitation. They will be tested once they are back in use.


The city has notified its water system customers of the IEPA testing results. The letter defines PSAS, gives their history, dating back to the 1940s and that there currently are no enforceable drinking water standards.

“PFAS are present in many consumer goods, including food packaging and personal care products, and scientists have found values of PFAS in blood of nearly all individuals tested” the letter states, in part. “Exposure to high levels of PFAS may cause adverse health effects such as increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of thyroid disease, low infant birth weights, reduced response to vaccines, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and increased risk of liver and kidney cancer as seen in studies of laboratory animals.

“Exposure to levels of PFAS above the draft guidance levels does not guarantee that a person will get sick or an adverse health effect will occur. Draft guidance levels are conservative estimates. The possible health effects from PFAS are dependent on how much a person is exposed to and how long they are exposed to it.”

After his presentation to the mayor and aldermen at a recent committee of the whole meeting, Alderman Tom Porter asked if all city wells were interconnected with one another.

“Right,” Anderson replied, “they’re all comingled with each other.”

“So, this is potentially filterable material that can be mitigated, if it’s cost effective?” Alderman Dan Snow asked.

“That’s the big question–if it’s cost effective,” Anderson said. “So far, from what they know, it’s difficult to remove them; they don’t degrade over time. It’s not like removing iron, which we had to do from Well No. 10. They don’t have a lot of experience with it yet, but they are gaining more over time.”

“Fortunately,” he added, “Well No. 3 is not one of our bigger producers, like Well No. 8 or Well No. 10. So, that’s a good thing.” 

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