CHICAGO (WLS) -- As temperatures soar, many people turn to drinking fountains for relief. But hundreds of the Chicago Park District drinking fountains were shut down last year after the ABC7 I-Team found high levels of lead in the water.
The I-Team learned that the city recently launched a new plan which "flushed out" many outdoor fountains. The water ran continuously from the fountains for a month. The I-Team also found that some of the fountains which were shut down for high lead levels in October have been remediated and are back on.
The I-Team recently found the elephant water fountain at the Lincoln Park Zoo flowing again. It was shut down in the summer of 2016 after the I-Team tested it outside and inside facilities run by Chicago's Park District.
The I-Team's initial testing in May 2016 prompted several shut downs like that one, and testing by the Park District. Then, in October 2016, the Park District took major action, turning off 445 of 1,891 outdoor water fountains, which reached the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion. Another 14 out of 544 indoor water fountains were shut off.
"The most important thing I could do was, I heard the problem, investigate the problem and shut it down," said Michael Kelly, superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, said at the time.
Fast forward to today and the city of Chicago Park District was unable to tell us how many outdoor fountains have been remediated but said every outdoor fountain will be tested and that "...to date, the Park District has received initial sampling results from over 1,600 outdoor fountains with passing results from 96.5 percent."
The I-Team also reexamined some of the troubled fountains. On the 8400-block of South Kerfoot Avenue, a fountain was disabled, but one on the Montrose Lakefront Trail was remediated and running again.
The I-Team also learned that the Park District has also implemented a new plan where water fountains continuously ran for a month to flush out the lead. The Park District said, "This new approach will allow for all water lines leading to drinking water fountains to be properly flushed and conditioned so they will be able to provide clean drinking water throughout the season."
"I thought that was kind of odd, that the water fountains were always on," said Sterling Smith, park goer.
When the I-Team told him why they'd been running, he replied, "OK, that makes sense I guess?"
Children are most at risk for lead poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control said no level of lead is safe.
FULL STATEMENT FROM CITY
Statement from the Chicago Park District
The safety of our patrons is of paramount concern. Last season, the testing of outdoor water fountains found elevated levels of lead in a small percentage of drinking fountains. This season the Chicago Park District worked with the Chicago's Department of Water Management and Illinois Department of Public Health to develop a water management plan to ensure that its fountains provide clean drinking water going forward.
To date, the Park District has received initial sampling results from over 1,600 outdoor fountains with passing results from 96.5%. The fountains that did not meet the EPA drinking water standard for lead content of 15 parts per billion will remain out of service until repaired, replaced or removed as necessary. Several of these fountains are undergoing additional flushing to ensure water quality, and will not be available to the public until they return to normal functionality.
At the start of the season this year, the District began implementing new water management plan that includes a flushing protocol where all outdoor drinking fountains run continuously for approximately one month. Fountains were shut down in the winter months and water lines were drained and depressurized. This new approach will allow for all water lines leading to drinking water fountains to be properly flushed and conditioned so they will be able to provide clean drinking water throughout the season.
With this protocol, initial samples are collected as the fountains are turned on to test water quality. Fountains then run continuously for a set period of time, and follow-up sampling will be collected upon completion of the flushing protocol. Additional sampling will be completed throughout the summer to ensure the fountains continue to provide clean water.
All 14 indoor drinking water fountains that were found during last year's sampling to have an elevated lead level have been remediated, replaced, or removed.