Jun 3, 2022 - News

Chicago stops reporting lead test results

Lead pipe
A portion of a lead pipe removed from a home in Gary, Indiana. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Chicago started offering free home water tests for lead levels in 2016 and shared thousands of results a year as part of the process.

  • But an Axios analysis of reported results shows that beginning in August 2021, the water department abruptly stopped reporting new results to the public and even to one homeowner whose water was tested.

Why it matters: The data from these tests offers a rare public look into the severity of Chicago's lead problem.

  • For example, in 2018, the Tribune used the database as the foundation of an investigation that showed high lead levels in a third of homes tested.
  • Ingested lead can damage children's brains and cause heart disease in adults, so withholding results from homeowners can rob them of data needed to make informed health decisions.

Driving the news: A North Side homeowner showed Axios documents confirming that the city tested his home in early 2021, after an initial at-home kit supplied by the city found high lead levels.

  • But even after multiple calls to the water department, the homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the city, was denied the results.
  • Finally, the homeowner said, a staffer explained that results can't be released without the signature of two water officials, one whose job has yet to be filled.

What they're saying: "This is a scandal," says the homeowner. "The city is exploiting some administrative rule with a job vacancy to sit on these lead findings."

  • For now, the homeowner is filtering his water and trying to decide between spending tens of thousands of dollars on new pipes and waiting for the city to potentially remove them.

The other side: Axios has asked water department spokesperson Megan Vidis about the allegations multiple times since early May.

  • Vidis says residents like our homeowner source should have received their follow-up results along with "customized recommendations on how to mitigate their [lead] levels."
  • But she wouldn't say why the water department abruptly stopped posting test results in August, only that the department "is not required to publish these results online."
  • And she didn't confirm or deny that test results can be held up because they lack the signature of water officials.

📬 What's next: Reply if you're a Chicago homeowner awaiting water testing results. In the meantime, we'll continue to press officials on other issues around lead in city water.

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