We Need Lead Service Line Replacements, not Chicagwa

Marcelina Pedraza at her home in the East Side neighborhood of Chicago on June 3, 2021. Pedraza had her water tested for lead in January 2020, and lead was present in three samples.

Taylor Glascock for NRDC

Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled today Chicagwa—canned Lake Michigan water—to promote the city’s drinking water. While the Chicagwa cans have a nice design, I can’t help but think of the hundreds of thousands of Chicago homes that get their water from lead pipes.

Chicago has a drinking water crisis. We have almost 400,000 lead service lines in our city, the most out of any major city in the nation.

Our city’s drinking water infrastructure is a disaster, and we urgently need to get rid of toxic lead service lines bringing water into our homes.

The money is there. The federal government set aside more than $100 million this fiscal year for Illinois to do the work. In addition, Governor JP Pritzker’s administration signed a law last year that would facilitate the replacement of lead pipes across the state.

Yet the city has asked to move the goalpost for replacing these toxic lines by several decades and has only replaced fewer than 100 lead service lines so far.

Why are we moving so slowly when we know the dangerous effects of lead, especially on children?

My mother spent months figuring out how to get her lead service line replaced. She checked off all of the qualifications and managed to fill out all of the paperwork, not an easy task by any means. Two years later, she finally received approval from the city to have her service line replaced under a modest pilot program.

If you wanted to replace your lead service line in Chicago, the cost could go up as high as $30,000, several times over what it would cost in other cities. The city could be doing a lot to reduce those costs and start using the money available to replace lead lines.

It’s essential to the health of our communities that we get rid of all the lead pipes bringing drinking water into our homes. Communities like mine are already battling many other sources of pollution, so why can't city government figure out a way to get this done?

We need less Chicagwa and more political will to get the lead out of our drinking water.

About the Authors

Gina Ramirez

Midwest Outreach Manager

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