Chicago Says Disinfecting City's Sewage is Eco Un-Friendly

Published on February 17th, 2010 | by

Chicago is the only major U.S. city that does not disinfect its sewage. Why? Because it’s bad for the environment.

At least that’s the latest reason from its 120-year-old water agency. They claim disinfecting the water would bolster the district’s greenhouse gas emissions and thereby do more bad than good.

The Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day
The Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day

Engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago recently conducted an in-house study of its carbon footprint. They also looked into how the footprint would change if the department had to kill sewage bacteria before dumping it into the Chicago River.

They found the district’s 2008 electricity consumption produced the equivalent of 436,837 tons of carbon dioxide. This is down from the 2005 measurement of 520,419 tons. If disinfecting water was added, the carbon footprint would increase by 98,600 tons a year.

“With additional treatment, you have to weigh how much water quality is actually being accomplished with more harm to the environment in another way,” said Louis Kollias, the director of the district’s Monitoring and Research Department. “You’re going to have to have it one way or the other. You can’t have both.”

District officials have argued there is no evidence the public’s health and safety are harmed by the water and adding on disinfection will cost $500 million plus ongoing expenses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the cost at $242 million.

“You look at the record here and every potential and possible argument against doing anything has been put into testimony,” said Rob Sulski, a water pollution programs manager with the Illinois EPA.

Eventually, the Illinois Pollution Control Board will decide if the district must use additional chemicals to treat its effluent.

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Source. Chicago Tribune


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3 comments

  • I think this is an example of how, although making a priority of reducing global warming is a laudable goal, sometimes US citizens then begin to lose sight of the other environmental goals. We need to have across the board progress in environmental issues, and the constant publicity about the warming issue seems to sidetrack some of the other issues. It is kind of astounding that the citizens of Chicago aren’t bothered by this sewage issue.

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