Nearly one in 20 tap water tests, The Guardian revealed in its analysis of data from the city of Chicago, has exceeded federally designated levels for tolerable lead exposure.
"This means," the Guardian notes, that of 24,000 tests, nearly 1,000 of those homes exceeded the standards set by the U.S. government. The results drew experts and locals to raise further concern because there are still an estimated 400,000 lead pipes supplying drinking water to homes throughout the city — the vast majority of which are being left untested.
"There's a very clear data set here showing very concerning lead levels in Chicago, and the residents need to have this information," said water engineer Elin Betanzo, who helped uncover the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and worked with The Guardian to analyze the data.
"Lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin with no safe level of exposure and multigenerational impacts. The time to cut it off is as soon as possible. Foot-dragging is helping nobody.
"This data shows lead well above the action level consistently, at addresses across the city again and again and again, and it's been sitting here publicly available for years. It's amazing. It's shocking," Betanzo added.
In May of last year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot decried that previous mayoral administrations had kicked "the can down the road," ignoring the urgent need for replacements of the lead pipes. However, as it stands, since that time, only 180 of the city's nearly half-million lead pipes have been replaced.
At Lightfoot's urging, Chicago has been granted by the state 50 years to replace all its lead lines.
"The bill that's coming out of Springfield doesn't come with any funding. It gives us adequate time, and hopefully we'll get it done way sooner than that," Lightfoot said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Additionally, researchers found that nine of the top 10 zip codes with the highest test results were neighborhoods of primarily Black and Hispanic residents. One home recorded in the study, found in a primarily Black neighborhood of South Chicago, had lead levels of 1,100 parts per billion (ppb). The Environmental Protection Agency's limit, which the study cites as its benchmark for exceeded lead levels, is 15ppb.
In a review of a separate study published at the University of Sao Paulo, researchers write that "lead-induced neurotoxicity acquired by low-level long-term exposure has special relevance for children ... In many studies, aggressiveness and delinquency have also been suggested as symptoms of lead poisoning."
The researchers add that "drinking water can also be contaminated by lead ... The U.S. National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper state that water is unsafe if 10% of a municipality's test sample is determined to have lead levels greater than 15 ppb."
While many experts cite that no levels of lead are safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics sets its prescribed levels for school drinking fountains at no more than 1ppb, connected to the fact that a child's brain is particularly susceptible to lead.
At that rate, 71% of Chicago tests The Guardian reviewed would fail.
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