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You Can Now Get Your Water Tested For Lead For Free

By Mae Rice in News on Apr 28, 2016 5:55PM

Glass of water (photo via [cipher] on Flickr

Chicagoans can now call 311 to schedule free water testing in their homes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday. The announcement comes a week after Flint Michigan's ongoing lead contamination crisis resulted in criminal charges for three public officials. The revelation that Flint has relied on lead-tainted water from the Flint River since 2014 has brought national attention to the problem of lead contamination in drinking water. (Emanuel's announcement also comes months after a report found the city of Chicago could be doing more to warn residents about potential lead contamination in their water.)

Here's how the new, free water testing will work: Residents who call 311 to request testing will get a call back within two business days to schedule a home visit, where officials will collect a water sample. (It's unclear what the lag time between scheduling calls and actual home visits will be like, though.) Residents will get results of their water sample within three weeks; results will also be posted publicly online.

If a home's water has lead levels above 15 parts per billion, the city will make a second home visit to evaluate the source of the lead and create a plan of action. While none of the city's pipes are lead, some private residences still have lead pipes.

The city has also started a pilot program to test water in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) "out of an abundance of caution," according to the mayor's office. Results from these tests will be posted publicly online, too.

Emanuel said in a statement that the city's water "already meets or exceeds" state and national standards. Chicago gets its water from Lake Michigan; from there, it's treated and purified by the Department of Water Management, which also keeps constant, 24/7 tabs on Chicago's water quality. Lead poisoning is also less of an issue in Chicago now than it was in the '90s, according to the mayor's office. Today, less than one in 100 children have elevated levels of lead in their blood; in the late 1990s, that figure was one in four.

This new water testing program has arrived less than a month after the Department of Public Health announced plans to test tap water in homes where children are suffering from lead poisoning.