Mayor Announces Efforts to Increase Water Safety Monitoring

(Steve Johnson / Flickr)(Steve Johnson / Flickr)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday announced initiatives to reassure residents that Chicago's water is safe and lead-free.

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Water testing at a number of Chicago Public Schools across the city began this week, according to a press release issued by the mayor's office, which also noted the city will offer free water testing to residents via 311 and partner up city departments and organizations to inspect the homes of children who test positive for lead.

In the release, the city noted that “Chicago water meets or exceeds state, federal and industry standards,” but the mayor’s announcement comes in the wake of the Flint water crisis and an increase in concerns about Chicago's water safety.

In Flint, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with dangerously high levels of lead. Lead poisoning can result in a host of health problems, including the suppression of a child’s growth and development as well as damage to an adult’s brain or nervous system.

Chicago residents can request free water testing by using the city’s 311 phone service. According to the release, residents can expect the Department of Water Management (DWM) to schedule an appointment for obtaining a water sample within two business days of the request. If lead levels at the residence exceed 15 parts per billion, the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for action, the DWM will schedule a return visit with a plumber and electrician to find the source of the lead and develop a mitigation plan.

The pilot program launched by CPS includes water testing at 28 schools based on specific criteria, such as the age of the building, the age of students (pre-K programs get precedence) and the presence of a kitchen or pipes that may need repair or replacement.

The city assures residents there is “no indication that there is any lead present in school water,” according to the release, but that this effort is out of “an abundance of caution” and to develop a new water testing approach for the entire school district.

Along with the 24/7 water testing the DWM already performs, the agency will partner with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), which conducts home inspections where children with reported elevated blood levels live. The DWM will join the CDPH to also test the water of these residences.

The CDPH will additionally work with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to require property owners to repair lead hazards in any CHA buildings where children with elevated lead levels are living.

In an effort to promote transparency and public awareness, the city says they will make lead testing results available online.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

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