Upgrades to Aging Water Lines May Disturb Lead Pipes

For decades now it’s been common knowledge among those in the housing industry that lead paint is incredibly dangerous for those who live around it. For this reason, it was outlawed by the federal government in 1978 in an attempt to crack down on the number of children being impacted by lead poisoning.

Research has shown that since the government began to enforce these rules, the average IQ among adults has jumped multiple points. There is good evidence that childhood lead exposure, even in small quantities, can impact your intelligence, working memory, and even socioeconomic prospects.

But lead isn’t just found in paint; we know that it’s used heavily in ammunition, ceramics and also water pipes. The real problem with lead is ingesting and inhaling it, so why are we not worried about our drinking water?

Lead Could be in the Water You Drink at Home

If you live in a house that has lead piping and you continue to drink from the tap every day for decades, it’s unlikely that you won’t experience health issues. Small and consistent exposure to lead can still be dangerous, causing learning difficulties in children and physical pain in many victims.

In recent years there have been multiple construction projects across the country that have attempted to fix municipal water lines and potentially remove some old pipes. This idea could seem progressive, but since not all of the lead is being removed, there are still problems.

Not only that, but all of the vibrations from the construction are found to cause the lead pipes to shake and release more of the toxic metal into the water.

According to Maureen Martino, the executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, in Chicago “we always say there are two seasons: either winter and construction.”

The city of Chicago is making efforts to improve their water pipes after a few massive leaks. ”When we took a look at the water mains, what they pulled out, this week over on Broadway and see how old they look, and how crumbling and what the new water mains look like, you’ll see the need is there,” Martino says.

There are 4,000 Miles of Water Pipes Across the City

Across the city, there are more than 4,000 miles of water pipes underground, and in 2012 they announced that over the next decade they would be replacing 900 of those miles. These pipes are not made out of the lead, but an estimated 80% of the tubes that connect directly into residential homes and businesses are using the toxic metal – and that’s the problem.

Steve Berman is a lawyer on behalf of three Chicago residents who are filing a class-action lawsuit against the city. They argue that the process of construction is distributing the lead service lines, increasing the amount of the toxic metal in their drinking water.

He says that the city didn’t take any steps to inform the residents of the potential danger or give them information on how to reduce the risk of lead exposure from their drinking water.

“So, we have children drinking lead in the water in Chicago — that’s not acceptable,” he says. “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.”

EPA Claims Water in Chicago is Safe to Drink

Tom Powers, the city’s outgoing commissioner of water management says that the Chicago water is safe. He said that the “water meets and exceeds every standard of the U.S. EPA. We’ve done testing in areas where water main work has been done, and we have not seen any correlation to any increases in lead levels as a result of any of that work.”

In response to complaints he initiated a campaign to add phosphate to the water supply to mitigate and lead leaching into the water, but any resident who calls the city can get free lead testing.

It’s certainly reassuring to see the city take steps to solve the problem, but given the situation in Flint and other cities, it’s understandable that residents are nervous. In a city the size of Chicago, where lead pipes are ubiquitous, it’s going to take a long time to replace them all, which is why the process must start now.


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