Jul 21, 2022 - News

Eye-popping lead removal prices

Guy removing pipe from the ground.
A worker removes a lead line from a house in Cincinnati, where the city works with residents to keep removals affordable. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Worried about lead in her water, a North Center mom recently asked a plumber how much it would cost to replace the lead pipe that connects her home to the water main.

  • The answer? A whopping $28,500.

What she's saying: "It was sticker shock," says marketing executive Melissa Harris, who agreed to let Axios shadow her lead removal journey. She recently posted about the experience.

  • "I anticipated $7,000 to $8,000," she tells Axios. "Clearly I was naive."

Why it matters: In a city that forced homeowners to install toxic lead lines for decades, Chicago's high prices and lack of removal assistance are puzzling — Harris' colleague in Oak Park had a lead line easily removed for about $5,200.

  • In Cincinnati, the city works with homeowners to remove lead lines affordably. The cost is about $2,100, and even less for low-income residents.
  • And in metro Detroit, the city of Royal Oak is replacing the lead line to our editor's house for free.

Details: Water department officials tell Axios that our dense underground infrastructure, among other issues, makes it more expensive to remove lead lines here.

Yes, but: The Lakeshore Plumbing representative, Leo Deely, who gave Harris the estimate says a lot of the expense has to do with city fees and codes for post-replacement street repairs.

  • Deely tells Axios that work also often gets delayed because the water department has so few permit reviewers on staff.
  • Axios has asked water officials about these issues for nearly a month but has gotten no answers.

The bottom line: Chicago has very slowly been using $15 million in grants to remove lead lines for low-income residents.

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