Sep 22, 2021 - Politics

Chicago mayor angry with slow pace of lead line removal

A hand holding a lead pipe

A worker in Detroit removes a lead pipe that connected the water main to a home. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios.

Last September, Mayor Lori Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor to launch a plan to remove Chicago's toxic lead service lines — pipes that connect most Chicago homes to the water main.

  • The plan aimed to remove 650 lead lines from low-income homes in the first year using $15 million in federal block grants.

Yes, but: The Chicago Department of Water Management has removed just six. Water officials say the program's extensive paperwork requirements are slowing them down.

Why it matters: With 400,000 toxic lead service lines in the ground, Chicago has more than any other US city. The toxin — which has shown up in the water of two-thirds of tested homes — can cause brain damage and heart disease.

What they're saying: "I've not been shy about expressing my deep disappointment," in the slow pace of removal, Lightfoot told Axios in a wide-ranging interview yesterday. "Absolutely more has to be done."

Her focus: "Doing a lot better work reaching out to folks and letting them know, particularly low-income households," that they can apply for free line removals.

The responsibility: "I've been very clear with [Water] commissioner [Andrea Cheng] that this is too slow. And that this is on her and her team to get the job done."

Recent change: "I now have a regular readout on what the progress is ... and I expect to see a significant turnaround in the work that's being done for it."


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