Editorial: The lead in Illinois' drinking water

  • There are more lead service lines, such as this one, in Illinois' water systems than in any other state.

    There are more lead service lines, such as this one, in Illinois' water systems than in any other state. Associated Press/2016

Posted4/2/2021 1:00 AM

U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen safe drinking water protections in Illinois and across the nation, namely the amount of lead and copper that can be present.

Duckworth chairs a committee that has jurisdiction over the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. So, why champion this cause?


Because Illinois has the most lead water service lines of any state, and lead in water is known to cause irreversible brain damage in children and adults.

Furthermore, the senators are asking EPA Administrator Michael Regan to include an Illinois representative in its discussions and public outreach.

"As is with many problems in our nation, this lead contamination is often the worst in Black and brown communities, with data from one predominantly Black community in Illinois showing as much as 5,300 ppb of lead in the drinking water," the senators wrote. "These chronic issues in Illinois and across the United States call for the toughest possible standards backed by science. We urge EPA to update and implement a Lead and Copper Rule that takes into account the best available science, protects the health of all Americans and will help reverse the existing inequities in access to safe drinking water."

The Chicago Tribune recently studied samples collected by Illinois' 1,768 water utilities -- in which a small percentage of households are tested -- and found that more than eight in 10 Illinoisans live in a community where lead was found in the tap water of at least one home during the past six years.

Lead has long been a concern in Illinois, not just in poorer neighborhoods but in the more affluent suburbs.

In light of the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, our Jake Griffin in 2016 investigated the challenges facing Illinois on lead testing in the water.

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The first part of his investigation examined lead testing in municipal supplies.

The second examined testing done in the drinking water in 319 suburban schools.

Tests found a drinking fountain in a school library had lead levels 212 times the federal safety threshold of 15 parts per billion.

That was the worst example.

Sixty-nine schools -- 22 percent -- had water fountains or faucets that tested at or above the federal standard, the records showed.

Lead in the water will continue to become an issue in Illinois. We heartily endorse any attention given to this critical health concern.

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