Four years ago, Chicago announced a sweeping plan to systemically update miles of the aging water lines throughout the city in light of natural decay and water quality standards. Now, this promise is coming to fruition, as city workers are busy upgrading the central water main across North Broadway Street.
This construction is the first of many projects as Chicago slowly but surely replaces key water mains that may have degraded or eroded. Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement to NPR “when we took a look at the water mains… and see how old they look, and how crumbling and what the new water mains look like, you’ll see the need is there.”
An upgrade to any city’s infrastructure is typically cause for celebration. However, the replacement of these water mains has drawn criticism as well as a lawsuit. Residents of Chicago claim that the work is causing lead levels in the local drinking water supply to rise and is a serious health concern.
The announcement made four years ago claimed that 900 of the city’s 4,000 miles of water mains and pipes would be replaced. 80 percent of the water pipes that connect to the water mains are lead pipes.
Attorney Steve Berman, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of three citizens in the area, claims that the process of replacing the water mains is causing undue pressure on the lead water pipes, which in turn causes an increased level of lead to filter into the drinking water.
Another concern that Berman voices in his lawsuit is the failure of city officials to disclose the potential negative effects to residents or proper methods to reduce their risk of lead contamination. “We have children drinking lead in the water in Chicago – that’s not acceptable,” he stated to NPR.
He continued, “So we seek to have proper warnings sent out in the future when this is done, to have testing of kids to see if they have elevated lead levels, and to have the city of Chicago replace these lead pipes with non-lead pipes.”
Miguel Del Toral, a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated that a recent study conducted by the EPA has made it abundantly clear that sampling protocol used to measure and determine the lead concentration in Chicago’s drinking water is insufficient and ineffective.
“Our sampling protocol is not really capturing the high lead that’s there,” Del Toral iterated in his statement. “Everywhere, not just in Chicago. It’s a national issue.”
For citizens in Chicago and across the nation, protecting themselves and their families from potential contaminants in their drinking water should be priority one in light of Flint-like scandals and health issues around the country. Installing a simple countertop filter is an important step in delivering safer and cleaner water to your home.