Chicago plans to replace lead water pipes across the city

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago plans to begin replacing toxic lead water pipes across the city after decades of downplaying the potential health threat to the public.

The Department of Water Management on Wednesday shared with the Chicago Tribune its plans to replace 750 of the roughly 400,000 lead service lines connecting homes to street mains.

Former city officials, including former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, denied for years that drinking water from household faucets could be harmful.

'œIt's great that Mayor Lightfoot has done what none of her predecessors had the courage to do, which is to acknowledge the problem,'ť said Miguel del Toral, a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who had a key role in identifying similar threats in Flint, Michigan, and East Chicago, Indiana.

Like other cities also replacing lead service lines, Chicago will rely on federal grants and low-interest loans to finance its work. Emanuel, as mayor, did not apply for money to replace lead service lines.

Lightfoot said the city's water is tested often and is safe to drink as chemicals are added to the water system. However, replacements are needed as pipes are disturbed by road work and researchers have found dangerous lead particles that can get into the drinking water.

Most of the $19 million that is earmarked for next year will be used in low-income neighborhoods where children are also at risk from lead-based paint. Lead can harm people at any age but is especially dangerous to children, potentially damaging the brain and nervous system and causing learning and behavior problems.

Lightfoot's administration plans to coordinate the replacement of service lines and water mains to make the work more cost-effective.

'œWe need to work on our coordination with other utilities,'ť said Andrea Cheng, an assistant water commissioner. 'œWe are going to need a lot of public outreach. Learning how it all works on this one block will inform our bigger program in the future.'ť

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