Most Chicago homes tested for lead in drinking water are owned by public works employees

UPDATE: Chicago will begin testing water in homes where children are poisoned by lead, according to the Chicago Tribune. Currently, the city only tests 50 homes for lead in the drinking water every three years. A Tribune investigation found in February that since 2003, most of those homes were located in areas where cases of lead poisoning are rare, and a vast majority were owned by employees of the Chicago Department of Water Management – the department that would be on the hook should the city violate safe drinking water standards.

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., Chicago officials are under scrutiny for their testing methods and lack of caution in warning residents about lead in drinking water.

As per the federal Lead and Copper Rule, the city tests tap water in about 50 homes every three years for lead contamination. But there appears to be a number of problems with the way the city goes about this task.

First, Chicago Tribune analysis shows very few of the homes tested are located along streets where water mains are being replaced, even though a 2013 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found this type of construction work could inadvertently cause lead contamination in Chicago residents’ drinking water. Chicago required the use of lead pipes to deliver water long after most big cities, ending the practice in 1986, and in recent years has ramped up the process of replacing those pipes, which serve nearly 80 percent of Chicago homes.

Second, a “vast majority” of the homes tested are owned by current or former employees of the Chicago Department of Water Management, according to the Tribune. The department would be tagged with millions of dollars in federally required improvements should the city violate safe drinking water standards.

The department told the Tribune that it chooses homes for testing in neighborhoods with “the greatest possibility of having a lead service line,” an odd claim given that it also told the Tribune it doesn’t maintain an inventory of homes with lead service lines.

Third, Tribune analysis shows the sites chosen for water testing are typically not located in areas reporting the highest concentration of children who have suffered from lead poisoning.

Beyond poor testing methods, a Feb. 8 report from the Tribune shows the lack of caution given to Chicago residents by the city regarding lead contamination after construction.

Now, a class-action lawsuit has been brought against the city over possible lead contamination in the drinking water, according to ABC 7.

The complaint alleges that the city knowingly disturbed the city’s aging water pipes during construction work, which can lead to lead contamination, and that the city failed to properly warn residents of the associated risks.

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Tags: chicago, cronyism

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