Nearly 70 percent of residential Chicago tap water tested for lead over the past two years showed the toxic metal’s presence, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune released on Thursday. The reason? Mandated lead water pipes.
Of the 2,797 homes tested, tap water in three of every 10 residences had lead concentrations above five parts per billion, the maximum allowed in bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Tribune said that before Congress banned the practice in 1986, Chicago had required the use of lead service lines between mains and homes throughout the nation’s second largest city.
Replacing the pipe could be a costly venture for individual homeowners, as the Tribune noted that under the city’s plumbing code individual property owners are responsible for maintaining service lines.
“Chicago could be a leader on nationwide solutions to this problem, but instead they appear to be sticking their heads in the sand,” said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund and former assistant commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The Tribune said water from Lake Michigan is generally lead-free after leaving the city’s treatment plants but becomes contaminated after passing through service lines and internal plumbing made of lead.
In response to the analysis, the city’s water management department painted a rosier picture of Chicago’s water in a statement, per the Tribune.
“Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, he has made it a priority to improve Chicago’s overall water quality and infrastructure,” the department said. “Today, the city’s water exceeds the standards set by the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) for clean, safe drinking water.
“And the Department of Water Management continues to take a proactive approach to mitigating lead in our water system and is continually evaluating additional methods of lead mitigation.”
CNN reported the Tribune’s analysis comes after fears of toxic levels of lead in drinking water peaked during the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, which started in 2014. Recently, some residents there were protesting the decision to end a free bottled water program that started in of the crisis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least four million U.S. households include children who are being exposed to high levels of lead from various sources but mostly deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust, according to CNN.
There are about a half-million U.S. children ages one to five with blood lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which the CDC recommends that public health actions be initiated, CNN reported.
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