City asked to provide lead water filters to deal with ‘crisis’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration must step up its distribution of free water filters to protect residents from lead poisoning as the city moves at a “glacial” pace to remove pipes with the brain-damaging metal, the defenders said on Monday.

Three environmental organizations and State Sen. Ram Villivam, D-Chicago, called on City Hall to improve access to free water filters to address the lead exposure “crisis.” The move is also expected to be part of a larger program to warn low-income residents of the dangers of lead, especially in children.

Lightfoot boasted of being the first Chicago mayor to begin tackling the problem of removing nearly 400,000 lead utility lines in the city, but her administration has fallen behind on its own modest goals. of substitution.

In September 2020, Lightfoot said the city would replace lead lines in 600 homes of low-income residents, a small start to the biggest problem. State law gives the city an unusually long period of 50 years to replace the lead lines.

On Monday, lead lines in 183 homes were replaced as part of the ‘equity’ program for people on low incomes. Additionally, 34 other owners have paid for the replacements, which the city says can cost tens of thousands of dollars per job.

In a statement, the city’s water department said any home that shows tap water tested with lead levels above a federal limit of 15 parts per billion is eligible for a pitcher and set of filters. free. Additionally, residents who have had water or sewer work done on their block or who have received a water meter can get free filter kits from the city.

This program can be improved to be more easily accessible and the city can make many more people aware that they are vulnerable to lead contamination, said Brenda Santoyo, senior policy analyst for Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

“Families shouldn’t have to jump through hoops,” Santoyo said. “People should be able to access these resources immediately.”

Households with children or pregnant women should be prioritized for filters, she added.

The city said it will investigate any homes that test above 15 parts per billion. A recent Guardian report cited city data showing that at least 1,000 Chicago homes had lead in the water that exceeded federal standards. Even with those cases the city is in compliance with federal and state laws, advocates of the guidelines say are weak.

Gina Ramirez, senior advisor to the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said the city is not treating the issue as a serious health threat.

“No amount of lead is safe when consumed,” Ramirez said. “We need the City of Chicago to recognize that this is a public health crisis.”

Villivam, whose young son was found to have high lead levels due to water and paint in the family home several years ago, said there was state funding and from the federal government for reparations.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, for example, provided the city with $4 million in funding to replace lead service lines earlier this year, a spokeswoman said. the agency.

“As the City of Chicago has committed to addressing this issue, the pace is glacial,” said Angela Guyadeen, clean water initiative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

State Senator Ram Villivalam said his young son had high blood lead levels due to water and paint in the family’s Chicago home several years ago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times File

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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