Lead Concerns Halt Chicago Water Meter Installations


Chicago’s water meter installation program is on an indefinite hold after new data showed an increased level of lead in some metered homes.

Of the 510 homes that were tested before and after the installation of water meters, roughly 36 – or 7.1% of them – showed levels of lead in excess of federal guidelines for drinking water after getting metered.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday described it as a precautionary measure.

“We don’t know specifically what the issue is with the meters. We just know that with a certain number of meters we saw an increase in lead levels,” she said.

But Lightfoot insisted that the city’s water supply is still safe – even in metered homes, like her own in Logan Square. Lightfoot said she had the water tested, and it came back within safety limits. But her family still uses a filter, because she and her wife have an 11-year-old daughter.

The mayor encouraged others to do the same.

The city offers free water testing kits and filters; residents can request them by calling 311 or visiting the Chicago Water Department website.

“I also want people to think about flushing their water. That means if it’s been six hours where the water hasn’t been used, turn on the faucet, run the washing machine, run the dishwater, water the lawn – anything that’s going to bring water into your home – for about five minutes. Anything after that is not likely to have issues with lead,” acting public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. 

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled early results of the study on metered homes last November – he got backlash for delaying making the information public despite results showing elevated levels in a subset of those sampled.

Since then, another 1,745 meters have been installed; households had to sign informed consent forms acknowledging the possible dangers.

Despite that, water Commissioner Randy Conner said he would – and has – had a meter installed; since the MeterSave program’s inception in 2009, 135,000 meters have been installed.

“It’s the absolute best water in the world,” Conner said. “People actually come here to see how we treat water.”

Residents who live in big apartment complexes or condo buildings need not be concerned, given that larger pipes that service those buildings are made of other materials.

But Conner said there’s a 99% chance any single family or two-flat home built before 1986 is likely serviced by lead pipes.

Regardless of the water meters, lead could also be stirred up in them any time work is done on the lead service lines. Replacing them is estimated to cost billions.

Lightfoot said she’s studying the feasibility of that – state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said Gov. J.B. Pritzker should send money from Illinois’ massive new “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure program should help pay for it.

The mayor also had no timeline for when the water meter program will re-start, saying only that it will happen once tests show installation can be done safely.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky


Related stories:

Public Health Chief Addresses Lead Contamination in Chicago Homes

City Knew About Elevated Lead Risk with Water Meters in 2013

City Finds High Levels of Lead in Water of Some Homes


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