Nov 17, 2021 - News

Chicago's lagging lead line removal is set to get more infrastructure cash

A photo of a hand holding a lead pipe.

A worker in Gary, Ind., shows a lead service line he just removed from the ground. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Local leaders flew to D.C. Monday to celebrate the new infrastructure bill, which is filled with lots of goodies for Chicago and Illinois.

  • Among them: $1.7 billion for lead service line removal in Illinois — about a third of the original ask, but still hefty.

Why it matters: With about 1 million toxic lead lines hooked up to Illinois homes (and 400k in Chicago alone), this could go a long way to removing brain-damaging lead from the water.

Yes, but: Chicago has barely used the $15 million in federal block grants it got a year ago to remove lead lines.

  • Lightfoot's plan set out to remove 600 lines the first year, but instead the city removed 12.
  • This makes environmental advocates worry that Chicago needs more than money to finally solve the problem.

What they're saying: "[We need] political will to prioritize lead removal in a meaningful and timely way," Jeremy Orr of the Natural Resources Defense Council told WBEZ last week.

  • "It's an urgent [issue] ... that's impacting people's health every day."

The other side: Chicago water department officials told Axios last month that the slow pace of removal stems from not having chosen a contractor to do the work.

  • Progress update: Axios checked back in with water officials to ask about progress and we got no response.

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