Aug 17, 2023 - News

Illinois environmental advocates want faster lead removal

lead pipe

A piece of lead pipe removed from a house in Gary, Indiana, where officials started removing them in 2019. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Dozens of environmental groups, including three in Illinois, are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to require every U.S. city to remove all toxic lead lines within 10 years.

Why it matters: If the EPA agrees to the request made this month, Chicago would be forced to massively accelerate its sluggish removal of roughly 400,000 lead lines connecting city homes to water mains.

Between the lines: Over two and a half years, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration removed fewer than 800 lead lines.

  • The city currently has until 2077 to replace all 400,000 of them.

The big picture: The pipes can leach lead into drinking water, causing brain damage in children and heart disease in adults. Health officials say no level of lead ingestion is safe.

  • An Axios analysis found that more than 80% of city homes tested from spring 2018 to 2022 had lead in their water, and more than one-third had levels too high to be allowed in bottled water.

Context: EPA officials have acknowledged the need for updated lead regulations by next fall but haven't specified new provisions. Advocates have taken this moment to push, in a joint letter, for specific recommendations including final rules by mid-year 2024.

What they're saying: EPA officials told Axios the agency would not commit to that timeline but intends to "complete this rulemaking and take final action on the proposal as quickly as practicable but no later than Oct. 16, 2024."

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