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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are chemicals widely used in consumer products and industrial processes. PFAS compounds come to MWRD treatment plants in the water we clean. We take public concern about PFAS seriously and are committed to taking action to address these pollutants. As a utility devoted to protecting the environment, we are working to track sources in our service area and build a better understanding of the fate of these compounds in the wastewater treatment process. 

This page is a resource to educate the public on PFAS, how the MWRD is addressing PFAS in the water environment and the biosolids we recover, and how residents and businesses can play a role in reducing PFAS in the environment.

About PFAS

PFAS are a group of thousands of manmade fluorinated compounds that have been in commercial use since the 1940s and are widely used in consumer products. These synthetic chemicals are found in every American household and were designed so that they do not break down, which is why they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” These chemicals are useful for their water-resistant, oil-resistant, lubricating and flame-retardant properties and are common in consumer products and industrial processes. 

Health effects of PFAS

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), research suggests that exposure to certain levels of some PFAS may lead to reproductive effects, increased risk of some cancers, hormonal interference and immune system dysfunction. Research in this area is ongoing, and the MWRD urges the public to consult trusted public health and toxicology authorities for current information. 

PFAS are widely used

PFAS are used in countless commercial, consumer, and industrial products and are widely present in the environment, our homes and businesses. The phone or computer screen you are reading this on may even be treated with a coating containing PFAS.

Where to find PFAS

PFAS compounds can be found in a wide range of products, including:

A blue jar of face cream next to an orange bottle of sunscreen representing PFAS found in personal care products

Personal care products

  • Body lotion
  • Shampoo
  • Sunscreen
  • Shaving cream
  • Hand sanitizer


  • Dental floss
  • Cosmetics
  • Contact lenses
  • Diapers
A teabag next to a cup of tea representing PFAS around the kitchen

Around the kitchen

  • Teabags
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Food packaging
  • Parchment paper


  • Butcher paper
  • Takeout containers 
  • Microwave popcorn bags
Red upholstered chair on a small rug representing PFAS found around the home and office

Home and office

  • Carpet and upholstery
  • Electronics
  • Cleaning products


  • Printer toner and ink
  • Sticky notes
  • Paint and varnish
Green tent representing PFAS found in active lifestyle gear

Active lifestyle gear

  • Camping equipment
  • Outdoor gear
  • Water-resistant clothing


  • Athletic clothing
  • Bicycle lubricants
  • Ski wax
Vintage film camera and film roll representing PFAS found in hobby supplies

Hobby supplies

  • Guitar strings
  • Negative film
  • Photographic developer


  • Canned air dusters
  • Epoxy resins
  • Wood lacquers and sealers
A bottle of lubricant representing PFAS in industrial processes

Industrial processes

  • Firefighting foam
  • Car washes
  • Electroplating


  • Industrial lubricants
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Aviation hydraulic fluid


PFAS and wastewater treatment

Wastewater treatment plants receive PFAS in water from homes and businesses. Wastewater utilities do not create these compounds, but since they are so widely used, they are present in the water that enters our treatment facilities. There is currently no feasible, cost-effective way to remove PFAS from water at a wastewater treatment plant. Therefore, like other chemicals used in everyday life, they may end up at low levels in the treated wastewater and biosolids resulting from the treatment process. 

The best way to keep unwanted pollutants such as PFAS out of the wastewater treatment process and the environment is to reduce them at the source, upstream of our treatment facilities. With very few current restrictions on the use of these compounds, it is up to households and industries to voluntarily reduce their use of PFAS.

What you can do about PFAS

You can potentially reduce your exposure and reduce your household’s contribution of PFAS to the environment by choosing PFAS-free products. 

  • Check labels of products or the websites of companies that offer products that may contain PFAS. Chemical names including “flouro” are likely PFAS. 
  • Consider PFAS-free alternatives when possible. For example, use ceramic-coated, glass, stainless steel or cast-iron instead of conventional nonstick cookware.

How industries can help reduce PFAS

Industrial facilities can help reduce PFAS in the environment by taking the following steps:

  • Ask suppliers if they have PFAS-free product alternatives and can provide PFAS-free certification. 
  • Review data sheets for key words such as organic fluorosulfonate, fluorinated surfactant, or any chemicals with a name containing “fluoro.” 
  • Properly dispose of any PFAS-containing products that are no longer being used. Never dump them down the drain or in the garbage. Instead, contact a waste disposal contractor to assist with destruction of PFAS-containing products. 
  • Know where and how chemicals that may contain PFAS are used in your process and if they end up in your wastewater discharge.
  • If processes use PFAS and discharging to the sewer is necessary, consider collecting a sample of the effluent to determine concentrations. 
  • If applicable, develop an in-house training program to educate employees on the importance of managing PFAS from industrial activities at the source.

The MWRD is taking action on PFAS

While there are limited federal PFAS regulations, and no State of Illinois standards, the MWRD is nonetheless taking a proactive approach to addressing this emerging issue. We have taken the following actions to better understand how PFAS may be entering the wastewater treatment process and help fill gaps in current PFAS knowledge:

  • Performed PFAS-focused facility inspections of over 340 industrial facilities, looking for evidence of current or historic PFAS use.
  • Tested for PFAS in the influent and residential collection system segments of each of MWRD’s water reclamation plants. 
  • Distributed a survey on PFAS to 331 Significant Industrial Users (SIUs) in the MWRD's service area. A total of 104 SIUs responded with completed surveys, for a response rate of 31 percent. Almost all respondents reported that they do not use, produce, or discharge PFAS.
  • Provided in-kind support and sampling for several  national studies on the fate and control of PFAS in wastewater, including, for example, recently supporting a Water Research Federation study investigating management strategies to prevent PFAS from entering water supplies and wastewater.
  • Tested biosolids to gain preliminary information on concentrations of PFAS.
  • Partnered with Northwestern University, AECOM and Argonne National Laboratory on an international collaboration to assess the capacity of polymers and other adsorbents to filter out trace organic contaminants like dissolved drugs or PFAS in wastewater.
  • Provided materials to educate industry on how they can help reduce PFAS in the environment.

Next steps

The MWRD is committed to continuing our work to address PFAS. Next steps include:

  • Continued sampling in residential segments of MWRD’s collection systems to characterize baseline PFAS levels.
  • Conducting additional outreach and sampling of industries most likely to use and discharge PFAS.
  • Developing capability to analyze PFAS in our internal lab. PFAS analysis requires specialized equipment and is currently conducted by outside labs. 
  • Directly regulating industry under provisions of Sewage and Waste Control Ordinance and Pretreatment Program regulations (40 CFR 403). U.S. EPA is in the process of developing PFAS effluent limitation guidelines for certain industrial user categories. These guidelines can establish the basis for MWRD industrial user permitting. 

Beneficial reuse of biosolids

Biosolids are a product of the wastewater treatment process that are popularly used as a sustainable soil amendment. Biosolids improve soil structure, increase soil organic matter and carbon sequestration, and retain valuable plant nutrients. The MWRD produces approximately 150,000 tons of biosolids per year and all MWRD biosolids are used as soil amendments on, e.g., farmland, and, in the Chicago area, golf courses, parks and athletic fields.

A proactive approach to assessing PFAS in biosolids

Because PFAS are found in wastewater, they can end up in the biosolids produced in the wastewater treatment process. We tested our biosolids for certain PFAS and found levels to be much lower than concentrations found in common household products. PFAS levels in our biosolids are within the range found in biosolids from wastewater treatment plants across the country not receiving discharges from PFAS manufacturers or high-volume industrial users. Research to date shows that land application of municipal biosolids like the MWRD’s does not pose a health risk.

Beneficially reusing biosolids as a soil amendment outweighs the alternatives

When used as a soil amendment, biosolids are a sustainable product that enhances soil health, recycles nutrients, sequesters carbon, reduces fertilizer and pesticide use, strengthens farm economies, and restores vitality to degraded lands. In contrast, the alternatives—disposing of wastewater treatment residuals in a landfill or by incineration and co-combustion—offer none of these benefits and may pose risks to human health and the environment.