Press Release

Chicago, City With the Most Lead Drinking Water Pipes in America, to Host Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s Water Infrastructure Hearing

Margie Kelly
mkelly@nrdc.org, 541-222-9699 

CHICAGO – Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth will hear testimony today from City of Chicago and State of Illinois officials responsible for removing lead service lines that deliver water to homes across the state. Illinois will receive more than $100 million from the new federal infrastructure law that allocated $15 billion to remove lead service lines nationwide. Illinois has more lead service lines than any other state in the nation, with an estimated 730,000 to 1.4 million lead service lines in the ground. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.   

“Illinois has more lead pipes than any other state in the nation but has been slow to make any meaningful progress to rid the state of this toxic scourge. Now is the time for the State of Illinois and City of Chicago to clear away any impediments and to equitably, quickly, and efficiently invest infrastructure dollars to fix the problem,” said Angela Guyadeen, Director of the Safe Water Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Lead inflicts irreversible damage to children’s health. As a mother of two young children, drinking from a lead pipe is like drinking from a lead straw which is unacceptable. Illinois has an opportunity to lead the nation by getting every lead pipe out of the ground – let’s make it happen.” 

Under the new federal infrastructure law, Illinois will receive $106.7 million dollars this fiscal year to remove its lead pipes and an additional $67.7 million in infrastructure funding it can spend on any of its drinking water priorities including to remove lead service lines. Substantial additional funding will come each of the following four years. The state also received $8.1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding in 2021 and 2022 that can be spent on water infrastructure including replacing lead service lines, though the state has spent much of that funding on other items.

The Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced guidelines for distributing $50 billion dollars in infrastructure funding for clean water, which represents the largest single investment in drinking water and wastewater systems in U.S. history. Recognizing that disadvantaged communities have disproportionately high exposure to unsafe and polluted water, the EPA will prioritize equitable access for those communities through grants and forgivable loans. 

Last fall, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed a bill that mandates all water utilities begin the process of replacing all of the lead service lines within the state. Illinois, along with Michigan and New Jersey, is one of only three states in the U.S. to mandate full lead service line replacement. Replacing dangerous lead service lines has a direct impact on protecting the health and well-being of all Illinoisans—especially the most vulnerable Black and Latinx communities.

Further Resources:  

  • Principles for Lead Service Line Replacement – a best practice guide developed in partnership with community groups and environmental justice organizations based on collective experiences on replacement in their communities.  

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NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC. 

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