Tests show elevated lead in Chicago water

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Underneath some Chicago streets are lead pipes that carry water to your home. For years, the city has been pushing the installation of meters to conserve water. When they are installed, the lead pipes are often disrupted.

Chicago's Department of Water Management conducted lead tests on a sampling of meter homes. Out of 296 homes, 51 came back with elevated levels; more than 17 percent.

"There is a small subset of homes that we do know tested high and we will be on contact with them and giving them filters," said Randy Conner, Dept. of Water Management Commissioner.

City officials have known since June about the test results and is just now making them public. There are 165,000 metered homes; the potential for lead poisoning could be over 28,000 homes.

Some Aldermen are furious the city waited to inform the public and most importantly, the homeowners with elevated levels.

"We cannot allow this administration or city to sweep this problem under the rug, if we do our city will be in danger as Flint has been," said 29th Ward Alderman Chris Taliaferro.

City officials said they are addressing the problem by announcing a $750,000 study to evaluate the cost and funding sources of replacing all lead service lines. It did not satisfy all critics.

"Instead of conducting a study, let's put forward a program to remove the lead water out of the system," said 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas.

Replacing the pipes could be a $2 billion project. To pay for it, some aldermen have floated the idea of increasing the real estate transfer tax. Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shot the idea down.

"I don't think the homeowners should be an ATM machine," he said.

Emanuel said Chicago's drinking water is safe and health commissioner Dr. Julie Morita said the public should not panic about the elevated test results. However, Morita would not say how elevated the results are. Chicago resident Sarah Hartman isn't taking any chances.

"I've been using a filter since I found out about the problem in Chicago," said Hartman.

The city said it will give filters to all 165,000 homes with water meters. Despite the test results, the water department will continue to install the meters. Commissioner Conner said the study will be able to pinpoint the source of lead poisoning. It may not come from the lead service lines. Conner said it could also come from plumbing in the home.
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