Chicago interns investigate lead in fountains after I-Team stories

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The I-Team's ongoing investigation into local lead hazards in public water fountains has sparked Chicago student interns to do their own investigation. (WLS)

The I-Team's ongoing investigation into local lead hazards in public water fountains has sparked Chicago student interns to do their own investigation. And they found more reasons for concern.

When the I-Team found lead in Chicago Park District water fountains, some were shut down for public safety. But the city has continued to refuse to go on camera to talk about its findings.

A group of Chicago interns decided to step in and take on the problem. Their goal? Make a difference for the public good.

"Solve a problem creatively that you are passionate about," said intern Maggie Strait, one of three summer interns at the Cramer-Krasselt ad agency in Chicago who worked on the "Follow the Lead" investigation.

Lead in public water sources became their topic because of the lead water crisis in Flint and high levels of lead in Chicago, which was exposed by the I-Team.

The I-TEAM found lead in park district water fountains in field houses and on the lakefront. After the investigation reports, the park district shut down fountains where we found problems. Then they did their own testing and shut down several more, including three at the Lincoln Park Zoo and 15 in-door fountains.

So far, the park district said it's tested 450 fountains.

"The ABC7 story was a huge inspiration for us," said intern Maggie Blaha.

"It really gave credibility to the issue and gave us the go-ahead in our minds to pursue this," Strait said.

The interns tested 40 water fountains throughout Chicago, using a kit they heavily researched.

They found 31 percent tested positive.

One-third had lead above the Environmental Protection Agency's "action level." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no level of lead is safe for humans.

"Our largest number was 86ppb which was pretty shocking," Blaha said.

That fountain, with an extremely high level, is on the Near West Side. Fountains in Rogers Park and Roscoe Village also tested very high.

Late Tuesday, the park district didn't reveal any plans to shut down those specific fountains but said:

"The Chicago Park District continues to test outdoor fountains in accordance with USEPA sampling protocols and is posting results on its website as they come in. Certified laboratories that are accredited by the State for drinking water analysis process the results. Any fountain determined to be above the EPA's actionable level is taken out of service immediately for further testing and/or remediation."

"All the info that we want them to take away is right here on one page," Strait said.

The interns created a website mapping out their findings, something the park district has not done.

"The idea is that users can search their home or their child's favorite playground or a public space they like to use frequently," Blaha said.

The results were tweeted and posted on Facebook in real time.

"'Follow the Lead' was established to empower the public," Blaha said.

Their website gives users information about testing their home water and types of filters that can be purchased.

Then, they presented their findings and their solution-based website to the Chicago Park District.

"They are definitely interested in the project and we hope somewhere down the line that this could somehow continue whether they want to take it on themselves," Strait said.

The park district told the I-Team that it shares the same interests in water quality and its workers are currently testing all park district fountains.


Related Topics:
newsI-Team lead contaminationI-Teamchicago park districtChicago - Roscoe VillageChicago - Rogers Park
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