News Feature | February 7, 2024

As Lead Exceeds Limits Near Chicago, Residents Told To Avoid Tap Water

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

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A city located just 40 miles from Chicago has emerged as a new epicenter for lead contamination as residents are encouraged to avoid drinking from the tap.

“The city of Elgin is urging residents with lead water pipes in their homes to use ‘alternative drinking sources’ after a recent sampling of 100 properties found nearly 20% had tap water with lead levels exceeding federal standards,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “Elgin is offering residents filtered pitchers to remove lead content and in its statement on the water situation provided information on the type of water filter that should be used.”

Elgin is one of many communities throughout the U.S. with lead-based drinking water infrastructure. Recent estimates indicate that there are some 9 million lead pipelines throughout the country. But after U.S. EPA mandated testing found that 19 out of 100 samples had lead-in-water levels of about 15 parts per billion (ppb), the city was required to notify consumers.

“Because of the results, the city scheduled two open houses at which residents could learn more about the situation and the city’s lead service line replacement program,” according to the Tribune.

The city also plans to establish an interactive online dashboard based on the replacement program, offer free testing and filters for qualified homes, improve corrosion control measures, and more. Elgin’s goal is to replace all lead water service lines by 2036 at an estimated cost of $135 million.

“Last year, we replaced over 870 lead service lines,” said the city’s water director, Nora Bertram, per CBS News. “And that’s the complete lead service line, from the water main to all the way into the house.”

Bertram added that stagnation of water in the service lines or changing temperatures might account for the sudden increase in lead ppb.  

Some residents, however, voiced concern.

“Lead is not good, that’s for sure,” Elgin resident Bill Briska told ABC 7. “And it is 2.5 times over the actionable limit. So yes, it is of concern. 

High-profile lead contamination crises in Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi have brought national attention to the dangers of outdated drinking water infrastructure. But the problem won’t be easy to solve. At a national cost of roughly $10 billion, water systems are struggling to properly address the issue without more financial help

In the meantime, consumers like those in Elgin will be forced to turn to “alternative” sources.  

To read more about how water systems manage buried infrastructure visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Distribution Solutions Center.