Lead doesn’t belong in water but it’s showing up in Chicago’s water supply. A recent Chicago Tribune analysis found that hundreds of Chicagoans have been exposed to lead in their tap water.
Of nearly 3,000 homes tested by the city during the past two years, nearly 70 percent were found to have lead in their water, the Tribune found.
The problem lies largely with Chicago’s outdated infrastructure. Lead services lines, which carry water from street mains into homes, were banned by Congress in 1986, but Chicago required them up to that point.
Many of these old lead lines still lie underneath Chicago’s streets. They can act as a conduit for lead to leach into water.
There is no safe amount of lead in drinking water, according to the EPA, and children are the most adversely affected by lead exposure.
Cities across the U.S. – including Flint, Michigan – have garnered most of the attention when it comes to lead crises. But Michael Tiboris, global water fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said “it’s a problem in a lot of small rural communities too because the testing is not as consistent in those places. So we actually don’t have a very good picture of lead exposure in rural communities across the U.S.”
It is the responsibility of individual homeowners to replace lead pipes in Chicago, but it can cost thousands.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has invested millions of dollars to renovate the city’s aging water system. But lead lines still remain in the ground.
Tiboris and Chicago Tribune investigative reporter Michael Hawthorne join us in conversation.