Oct 21, 2021 - News

What's happening with Chicago's lead line removal

lead pipe and water glass

This small section of lead pipe was once part of a longer service line that connected a home to a water main. Chicago still has about 400,000 lead pipes in the ground. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Last week Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pledged to remove all the lead service lines in the city of Benton Harbor, Mich., over the next 18 months.

Why it matters locally: Chicago has more toxic lead lines that connect homes to the water main than any other U.S. city.

The latest: Mayor Lori Lightfoot did announce a more immediate removal plan that would use federal block grants to remove lead lines in low-income homes.

  • This plan aimed to remove at least 450 lines by September 2021.
  • But as of last week, the Department of Water Management had removed only 12 lines, DWM spokesperson Megan Vidis tells Axios.

What they're saying: Water Management officials say they have been using "in-house" workers, who do not work on removal full-time, to do the replacements, which has slowed the process down.

  • "But when [an outside] contractor is selected, the pace of replacements will escalate," Vidis says. "The outreach part of the pilot is in process with replacements to follow."

In the meantime: Per the Chicago Health Department, people in homes connected to lead lines should filter their water and flush their taps for 5 minutes every morning before consuming.


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