Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Statewide sampling to determine spatial distribution, prevalence, and occurrence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Illinois community water supplies, 2020–21

September 19, 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been manufactured and used globally since the 1940s. PFAS are used for their oil- and water-repellent properties, ability to reduce friction, and their flame-retardant nature. PFAS are widely used in a variety of products, including clothing, carpet, food packaging, and firefighting foam. The properties that make them useful in manufacturing, however, also make them persistent and mobile, causing potential exposures to the environment and humans. Known as “forever chemicals,” these compounds resist degradation and have been determined to bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) collected a total of 1,711 samples (includes quality-control samples) of finished water at 1,428 entry points from 1,017 Illinois community water supply (CWS) systems and analyzed the water samples for PFAS. The results following confirmation samples indicated a mean of 99 percent of all sample results were below the minimum reporting level (MRL) of 2 nanograms per liter (ng/L). Of the detections at or above the MRL, 7 of 18 PFAS were detected in 149 of 1,428 entry points (about 10 percent). Of the nearly 7.4 million residents directly served by the CWS systems sampled, more than 1.3 million residents (about 18 percent) are served by CWS systems that had at least one detection of PFAS above the MRL of 2 ng/L. The most frequently detected PFAS were perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (about 6.2 percent, 37 ng/L maximum concentration), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) (about 5.0 percent, 150 ng/L maximum concentration), and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) (about 4.8 percent, 25 ng/L maximum concentration). Of the 1,428 entry point samples from the CWS systems, 149 samples had confirmed detections of PFAS, with 93 of those 149 (about 62 percent) samples having at least one PFAS with a concentration that exceeded the median detected concentration of 3.2 ng/L. The highest concentrations detected were 150 ng/L (PFOS) and 140 ng/L (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) at one CWS location which has been shut down and a different source of water has been provided to the consumers.

Although PFAS detections were more common in CWS systems using surface-water sources (about 35 percent, 30 of 85) and mixed sources (50 percent, 5 of 10) compared to those using groundwater sources (about 9 percent, 114 of 1,333), a greater range of PFAS concentrations were observed in groundwater CWS systems (2 to 150 ng/L) than in surface-water CWS systems (2 to 15 ng/L). Statistically significant differences were determined between some detected PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, and perfluorohexanoic acid) and the source of drinking water (groundwater, surface water, or mixed).

This report summarizes the occurrence and spatial distribution of PFAS in CWS systems across Illinois. The results from this sampling effort could be used by Illinois public health officials to identify the potential risk of PFAS in drinking water to human health.

Publication Year 2023
Title Statewide sampling to determine spatial distribution, prevalence, and occurrence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Illinois community water supplies, 2020–21
DOI 10.3133/sir20235078
Authors Amy M. Gahala, Jennifer B. Sharpe, Andrew M. Williams
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5078
Index ID sir20235078
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Midwest Water Science Center