May 10, 2022 - News

City has removed just 60 low-income lead lines in 20 months

Lead pipe

A lead service line removed from a home's water system in Gary, Indiana. Chicago has been much slower to act than Gary. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently announced the city would be canning and distributing local drinking water under the name Chicagwa.

  • "From the beginning of my administration, I've made it a priority to ensure that every resident has access to high-quality drinking water," Lightfoot said as part of the launch.

Why it matters: Back in September 2020, Lightfoot's water department said it would be using $15 million in federal funds to remove 400 to 800 lead service lines a year from low-income households for free.

  • Instead, the city has removed just 60 in the last 20 months, water department spokesperson Megan Vidis tells Axios.
  • The remaining lead pipes are potentially tainting the drinking water of more than 400,000 homes.

The culprit: In the past, Chicago water officials have attributed this slow pace to their inability to find a contractor for the job.

  • Water commissioner Andrea Cheng blames logistical problems, while Vidis simply hasn't responded to our questions about why the city has performed only 60 low-income replacements.
  • Vidis would also not disclose the neighborhoods where the replacements were performed, claiming it would violate homeowner privacy.

What's next: Axios has filed a FOIA request for documents to prove the city has actually removed those lines.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more