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Afternoon Edition: July 30, 2021

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

John Gulledge, the chief water plant operator of the City of Lake Forest, is worried about the costs of removing PFAS, even low levels like the trace amounts found in his city’s water supply.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be partly sunny with a high near 74 degrees. Tonight will be mostly cloudy with a low around 62. Tomorrow will be sunny with a high near 81 while Sunday will be mostly sunny with a slim chance of showers and a high around 77.

Top story

Dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ found in drinking water of thousands of Illinois residents

More than 100 drinking water systems across Illinois, including some in the Chicago area, have tested positive for measurable levels of harmful contaminants known as “forever chemicals” that are linked to cancer, liver damage, high blood pressure and other health threats.

In the Chicago area, Lake Forest, Waukegan, North Chicago, South Elgin and Crest Hill near Joliet are among the water systems that are showing readings of a class of chemicals known as PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. In most cases, the levels are very low though the widespread presence is a concern, environmental and health advocates say.

“These findings confirm our fears that drinking water is a source of PFAS exposure for thousands of Illinois residents,” said Sonya Lunder, a Sierra Club toxics expert who has worked on the issue nationally. “The state needs to urgently address these harmful exposures.”

Although local officials can’t pinpoint exactly where the contamination is entering their water systems, PFAS chemicals have been around for decades and are ubiquitous, used in stain-resistant clothing, waterproof products, non-stick pans, polishes, waxes and fire-fighting foam.

It’s a complex problem that potentially can cost some local water departments millions of dollars to correct to protect public health. The chemicals are so prevalent that federal officials say most people have some level of them in their bodies. Nicknamed “forever chemicals,” they don’t break down and remain an environmental and human health threat indefinitely.

Brett Chase has the full story on the problem and what it’ll take to fix it.

More news you need

  1. A former Cook County prosecutor will be allowed to represent former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, a judge ruled today after Special Prosecutor Dan Webb had objected earlier this year over a conflict of interest. Matthew Hendrickson has more on the latest turn in the Smollett case.
  2. A Chicago man was sentenced today to a year and a half in federal prison for carrying a gun during downtown looting last summer. Prosecutors, who asked for a two-year sentence, said Williams had boasted about the looting on social media.
  3. Chicago’s Teatro ZinZanni will now require proof of vaccination for guests. The move comes the same day Broadway announced all audiences members would need vaccines.
  4. A group of southwest suburban school districts plans to invest millions in a state-of-the-art facility dedicated solely to serving students with special ed needs. Columnist Mark Brown has more on what he calls a “laudable” project.
  5. There’s a difference between diversity and equity, and it’ll be Sekile Nzinga’s job to help Illinois move from the former to the latter under a new role created today. Rachel Hinton spoke to Nzinga about the “long game” of her goals for the new state office.
  6. The towering “Somos Pilsen” mural emphasizes the neighborhood’s Mexican culture while pushing back against forces of gentrification. Check out pictures of the art and learn more about what it represents from Lu Calzada.

A bright one

Cook Forest Preserve youth program aims to diversify conservation workforce

Just after 10 a.m. on a Monday in late July, a group of eight teenagers is clearing brush in Possum Hollow Woods in LaGrange Park as temperatures approach 90 degrees.

Jamiyah Morgan, 18, a recent grad from Proviso West High School, holds out her gloved hand to show a leaf from a common buckthorn. She then turns back to retrieve another leaf — this one a Japanese honeysuckle — noting the pointed tip. Both plants are invasive species and, as Morgan explains, they are crowding out a group of ash tree saplings that she and the other teens are trying to help survive.

The crew is part of a program run by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in partnership with the Housing Authority of Cook County, which employs teens for five weeks, at $10.50 an hour for 25 hours a week, introducing them to conservation work.

Tramaine Davis, 17, right, prepares to cut down a tree as part of an effort to clear invasive plants and small trees as part of the Forest Preserve Experience at the Possum Hollow Woods Forest Preserve in La Grange Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The group working in Possum Hollow Woods is one of seven groups made up of teens who receive services from the housing authority. In all, 116 graduated from the program this week.

In addition to providing jobs to area teens and taking care of much-needed maintenance, the program has a broader mission to persuade young people of color to consider working in the field of forestry and related professions. Across the country, such jobs have largely been held by white men, and there’s been an effort in recent years nationally and locally to recruit more people of color.

“It’s the opinion of some people of color that this is not a field for them — these are white jobs,” said Alice Brandon, resource management programming manager for the Forest Preserves. “When you have this message that this is an exclusionary jobs field, they’re not going to be very excited about it.”

Brett Chase has more here.

From the press box

Your daily question ☕

What’s your favorite memory from the “Bryzzo” era of Cubs baseball?

Reply to this email (please include your first name and where you live) and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: If you could create your own Lollapalooza lineup, who would be the headliners? Here’s what some of you said...

“Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Tool, Fleetwood Mac, Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, and Rage Against the Machine.” — TJ Bollinger

“Beyonce, Pink, Adele, Ariana Grande, H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Ari Lennox, Lauryn Hill, Gwen Stefani, Lorde, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Florence and the Machine.” — Christa Janella

“Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Greta Van Fleet, Arctic Monkeys, The Lumineers, Shannon + The Clams, Cheap Trick, Dave Matthews, Blondie, No Doubt. Never been so not sure how many headliners there can be, but my lineup already looks pretty expensive.” — Mickey Vincent

“Peter, Paul and Mary, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Alice Cooper, Tom Petty, Meatloaf, The Boss.” — Sharon Maslona

“Isley Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire, The O’Jays.” — Gloria A. Veal

“Linkin Park, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, Depeche Mode, Beastie Boys, Aerosmith and Radiohead.” — Iris Velardo

“Prince ... that’s all we need.” — KJ de Matteis

”Anyone that’s not an EDM DJ.” — Paul Albazi

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