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Chicago's Problematic Lead Service Line Replacement Program

Goodwin Media Collaborator @ Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 12:08 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Head of Policy

Over 6.1 million homes in the United States still use a Lead Service Line (LSL) to deliver drinking water into their homes. The City of Chicago has more lead pipes and Lead Service Lines than anywhere else in the country, according to  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The city recently announced that it would prioritize replacing Lead Service Lines beginning in 2021. Unfortunately, the program isn’t as all-encompassing as would be expected by a city the size of Chicago. This article will break down Chicago’s lead line replacement program, and discuss other cities in the U.S. with similar issues. 

Details of Chicago's Lead Service Line Replacement Program:

Lead-Safe Chicago was initiated in 2020 to bring further attention to Chicago’s unresolved lead crisis. The city will assist low-income residents by providing a free lead line replacements to households with a combined income of below $67,300. Households who make more than $67,300 and do not qualify, are encouraged to participate in the “homeowner-initiated program” -  which means that homeowners must identify their Lead Service Line, pay for it to be replaced, and pay for bottled water/filtration while the line is being replaced. The projected average cost to a homeowner in Chicago will by $6,000. The city has offered to waive all permitting fees, which they claim to be as high as $3,000. The homeowner-initiated program is entirely voluntary, and not mandated by the city of Chicago. It's important to mention that because Chicago has an estimated 400,000 Lead Service Lines, this program will take years to complete.

Lead Levels Often Increase for Months After Replacing a Lead Service Line

It may seem counter-intuitive, but lead levels often increase for at least a few months, if not over a year, after a lead service line is replaced. This is because the protective coating inside the pipe (created by years of corrosion control) gets disrupted, and the debris/freshly uncovered pipes surface can contaminate water with lead. One of our scientists wrote an article that goes into further detail about this. You can check it out here

If You Rent in Chicago, You're on Your Own

There are over 1 million renters in the City of Chicago. This initiative does not require homeowners or landlords to take any sort of action, or replace an existing lead service lines. If you rent or lease in Chicago, you’re entirely on your own for ensuring your tap water is free of lead. 

Chicago Water is 9 Times Above The Public Health Goal for Lead

Despite having the most lead pipes in the country, Mayor Lightfoot continues to claim that Chicago water “meets all safety standards.” It’s important to note that there is no such thing as a “safety standard.” Federal regulatory standards, also referred to as “Maximum Contaminant Levels” (or “Action Level” for lead), are the enforceable standards used by EPA. These federal regulatory standards are not entirely based on health outcomes, and must weigh the cost of removing a contaminant with the benefits to public health. Health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics have created public health standards, which on the contrary, are actually based on health impacts. According to both of these agencies, there's is no "safe" level of lead for children. The Environmental Protection Agency has even created a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal of 0 parts per billion for lead. Lead levels in Chicago are currently 9 times higher than this public health goal. 

Chicago is Not Alone: 

This ongoing and unresolved lead crisis in not unique to Chicago. New York City, Pittsburgh, Newark, Denver, Portland, Oregon and so many more all have underreported issues with lead in drinking water. Municipalities are not always forthcoming about the safety of the water flowing through their taps. In June of 2018, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey claimed that Newark’s drinking water was safe for consumption and that residents could continue drinking Newark tap water. Unfortunately, Newark was actually in exceedance of the federal Lead Action Level of 15 parts per billion. If you have any questions about your city's water quality report, one of our Water Nerds would be happy to help! You can send us an email at hello@hydroviv.com or send us a chat on our homepage: hydroviv.com.

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Michigan to Pay $600 Million to Flint Residents Impacted by Lead in Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, August 21, 2020 at 2:29 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

After almost 18 months of negotiations, Flint residents and the State of Michigan have reached an agreement for damages from the 2014 Flint Water Crisis. The State of Michigan is required to appropriate $600 million dollars into a qualified settlement fund, which will be made available to children, residents, property owners, and businesses that were impacted by water distributed by the city. Almost 80% of the $600 million is being awarded to those who were children during the time of exposure.

Background Flint Water Crisis: 

On April 25, 2014, the city of Flint switched its water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (sourced from the Detroit River and Lake Huron), to the Flint River. Officials initially switched the water supply in an effort to cut costs. Flint city officials failed to add a proper corrosion control inhibitor to the new water source during treatment. This caused lead to leach from distribution pipes, and enter the municipal system at extremely elevated levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 99,000 people in Flint, Michigan were exposed to elevated levels of leadLead is a neurotoxin, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is NO safe level for children. Despite the current 15 part per billion Federal Action Level for lead, our team at Hydroviv follows the logic that children should not ingest any level of lead.

Financial Breakdown of $600 Million Flint Settlement:

  • 79.5% - Minor Children Settlements Categories: 64.5% for ages 6, 10% for ages 7-11, and 5% for ages 12-17

  • 18% - Adults and Property Damage Settlement Categories: 15% for adults and 3% for property damage

  • 0.5% - Business Economic Loss Settlement Category

  • 2% - Programmatic Relief Settlement Category

Important Details:

If the State fails to meet these conditions within 60 days, the Plaintiff’s are able to completely rescind the entire settlement. Also, in accordance with the settlement, individuals who were minors at the time of exposure are not required to show proof of injury in order to be eligible for compensation. This should help the State of Michigan get funds out to impacted parties in a timely manner. Additionally, individuals that were minors at the time of exposure may be eligible for larger amounts of compensation if they are able to show elevated blood lead levels. A similar eligibility requirement is true for those who were adults at the time of exposure.

A Few Red Flags:

The amount of compensation made available to each individual Flint resident is entirely dependent on how many people file claims. Therefore, there’s no way to estimate the amount of money each Flint resident will receive, or if it will be sufficient enough to address all expected damages. The settlement also claims that funding will be made available to provide special education services to children exposed to high lead levels Flint. No further details were provided about these special education services or how much funding will be allocated. It's unclear if portions, or all, of the individual financial compensation funds are expected to be used for at-home special education services.>

Our Take:

The recent settlement leaves us with more questions than answers regarding the tragic Flint Water Crisis. What happened between April 24, 2014 and December 31, 2016 demonstrates what can happen to under-served and underrepresented communities in the United States. In short, it shows the worst kind of government failure. We may never truly understand the full extent of these damages, and $600 Million dollars does not even begin to address the trauma and anxiety that Flint residents face every single day. We're proud to still be working with Little Miss Flint and the Little Miss Flint Clean Water Fund to continue our charitable efforts across the entire country. 

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