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Modernizing Chicago's Water System Could Boost Lead Levels In Water Supply

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 25, 2013 5:50PM

Photo credit: Tim King

Here is an unexpected problem: The Tribune reports that the city’s efforts to modernize Chicago’s water system may actually lead to more lead being leached into the water supply.

The problem is rooted in lead service lines that were installed to connect water mains with home that have been disturbed by water main replacements, street work or water meter installations. A new EPA study of lead in water found lead levels far higher than the 15 parts per billion federal limit were more likely to be found in Chicago homes where street work or water system work disturbed old pipes, and that the levels can be found in water for years after initial detection.

This is some serious news for a water system held together in spots by hollowed logs and it’s compounded by the fact that utility companies rarely warn homeowners of work being done in their areas or how to reduce one’s exposure to lead. Exposure to lead has been tied to birth defects, learning disabilities and brain damage in children. The city installed lead pipes in the water system up through the mid-1980s, just as we were getting the hang of not chewing paint chips.

City officials are telling homeowners to run water from faucets for 3-5 minutes and to remove aerator screens from faucets to clear out any sediment. The EPA says that should be done every time a faucet hasn’t been in use for several hours.