Chicago sees spike in requests for lead testing of water

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Following the Flint water crisis, Chicago has been flooded with requests from homeowners to test their water for lead contamination, according to documents the I-Team obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

There were 21 requests a year ago. This year, almost 7,000 requests were made.

Barrett Murphy, Chicago's commissioner of water management, sat down exclusively with ABC7's I-Team to talk about how the severe backlog has spurred the city to change its strategy.

"Yeah, so you can imagine that we really had to gear up and change our business process to meet that ongoing demand," Murphy said.

In the first half of the year, 2,600 Chicagoans called the city to have their water tested for lead.

Of those requests, Chicago's Department of Water Management was only able to test 300 homes.

Initially, there was a problem getting to some of these homes because of the overwhelming requests.

"It was a scheduling issue for us," Murphy said. "The big change we made is we went to self-testing kits."

So far, the city mailed out about 5,500 kits.

"We mail out a kit that has the three bottles with very clear instructions of how to do it and a video you can go to see if you do it correctly. That has been very successful," Murphy said.

The city said about 1,400 kits have been returned and tested. About 50 homes had elevated levels of lead and 75 percent of those eventually were re-sampled and came back "running clear," according to the city.

In data obtained of the first six months of testing, the I-Team found three homes with an alarming 200 parts per billion of lead and several others which hit the Environmental Protection Agency's action level of 15 parts per billion.

"In those homes where there is still an elevated level above 15 ppb we look to work with the home owner to work on potential plumbing issues they have internal to their house. The biggest thing we tell them to do is to flush the water for five minutes in the morning before you use it and that would solve it as well," Murphy said.

Murphy points out that the testing is designed to find a "worst-case scenario" by taking water samples when the water has been stagnant. Lead levels may go down after the water is run.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of exposure to lead.


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