Biden's 10-year lead pipe removal plan to make large impact on Chicago's water system, officials say

Pipe removal pilot program shows success in Little Village

Mark Rivera Image
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Proposed EPA clean water plan to impact Chicago's lead pipe problem
ABC7 caught up with local stakeholders about how the proposed change could impact efforts for lead-free drinking water and the health of Chicagoans.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Efforts to keep lead out of drinking water could be getting a huge boost.

The Biden administration proposed new restrictions through the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday that would require virtually all of the lead pipes across the country to be removed in the next decade.

Chicago residents would see a large impact from the initiative, as has hundreds of thousands of those lead lines are located in the city.

ABC7 caught up with local residents and stakeholders about how the proposed change could impact efforts for lead-free drinking water and the health of Chicagoans.

Rosa Peña and her mother Carmen Gonzalez spoke with ABC7 a few months ago as work was underway outside of Gonzalez' Little Village home.

"It's about time," Peña said.

Her family was one of the first to receive a brand new lead-free waterline for free as part of a pilot program in Little Village. Peña said the new Biden administration proposal to eliminate lead service lines nationwide is a step that can change communities for the better.

"Really great effort if the EPA is passing that regulation, requirement," Peña said. "I think that's super. It should have been done. So I'm happy for the rest of the people who haven't had this service done."

Key provisions in the change to the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule are achieving 100% lead pipe replacement within 10 years, locating legacy lead pipes and improved tap water sampling, among others.

However, for cities with more than 100,000 residents, like Chicago with more than 400-thousand lead water lines, the rules and realities are much different.

READ MORE | Chicago lead pipes: City working to replace over 400K service lines; how you can test your water

"Realistically, doing 40,000 lead service lines a year is most likely physically impossible," Chicago Department of Water Management Commissioner Besides Dr. Andrea Cheng said. "The fact that we don't have enough contractors, plumbers, or funding to do at that pace."

Dr. Cheng said it could take as much as $12 billion and at least 40 years, if not more, to replace all lead water service lines in the city. Earlier this month, the city announced a $336 million loan from the EPA for lead mitigation.

She said her department is introducing stronger pipe corrosion controls.

"That creates a coating within the pipes that minimizes the leaching of the lead, and that impacts everyone," Dr. Cheng said.

The streets and sidewalks of a stretch of Little Village where Peña lives, that have been repaved for new leadless waterlines, are connected to many homes Peña said the program should expand to.

"I think that would be just awesome, because there are a lot of children in these neighborhoods," Peña said.

Homeowners can get free lead testing kits sent to them upon request and apply for the replacement program if the tests find lead in their water.

-To find out if your home may have lead water lines, click here

-To request a Chicago Water Lead Test Kit, click here

-To request a Chicago Water Lead Test visit by a technician, click here

-Chicago Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program Application

-To report a Water Quality Concern, click here