Vallas Proposes Plans to Address Lead Hazard in Chicago’s Water System

Initiative a Cornerstone of Vallas’ Plan to Revitalize All of Chicago’s Communities

June 26, 2018 – Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas today proposed a wide-ranging plan to revitalize all of Chicago’s 77 community areas beginning with one of the greatest challenges the City faces – lead in its water supply.

“While the City of Chicago is currently in the midst of replacing many of its water mains, the Emanuel Administration has completely ignored the impact that is having on the amount of lead in our drinking water supply, leading to a public health menace,” said Vallas. “As the crisis in Flint, Michigan has demonstrated, City government cannot afford to ignore this issue.”

Establishing a long-term plan to replace Chicago’s lead water supply service connectors between homes and city water mains, while taking interim steps to get the lead out of its drinking water is a cornerstone of Vallas’ broader “Revitalize Chicago” plan to reinvest in and spur development throughout all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

“While much has been made of the surge in construction in and around downtown, the vast majority of Chicago is not enjoying economic revitalization,” Vallas said. “Chicago continues to significantly trail the nation in the recovery of property values in most of its neighborhoods. Over the coming months, I will lay out a wide array of proposals to help ensure that Chicago’s economic growth is enjoyed by all.”

While lead water piping is a problem around much of the nation, Chicago’s problem is compounded by the fact that it permitted lead water piping until 1986, long after most cities had banned its use and many even started replacing it. Even small amounts of lead in drinking water can have devastating neurological affects for the developing brains of children and cause severe learning disabilities and cognitive development. Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Lansing, Michigan are all among the Midwestern cities which have already addressed the problem.

“Unlike many cities around the nation, Chicago has not taken any steps to address the looming problem presented by lead in service connectors,” Vallas said. “This problem is made all the more urgent by the current widespread water main replacement program, which evidence strongly suggests significantly increases the odds of lead leaching into the drinking water supply of much of Chicago.”

While the City of Chicago is technically in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for lead in drinking water, those requirements are extremely low.Published reports indicate the City has only tested a handful of households for reporting purposes, none of which are in low-income communities most at risk.

As many as 380,000 properties in Chicago might need to have their water service lines replaced. While full water service line replacement can be costly, Vallas is proposing a tiered-plan that would look at a combination of short, interim and long-term programs that would be used to immediately address the most critical situations.

“Replacing lead service lines is a long-term goal that Chicago in the short term, we need to consider supplying water filtration systems that can help get the lead out,” said Vallas.“We would prioritize schools and other facilities serving young children for immediate assessment.”

Vallas also pledged to review funding priorities to help build back the City’s efforts to remediate lead paint that is also posing a major health risk in low income communities throughout the city. In recent years, there have been cuts in federal and state funding for such programs that have not been replaced by the City.

Vallas is proposing an ambitious City-sponsored service fund that would help homeowners pay for needed work. The fund would be initiated through a combination of seed funding from City development fees, some excess Tax Increment Financing funding and federal and state grants. Property tax credits or program cost deferrals could also be utilized to help home owners make necessary investments.

“I look forward to working with the City Council to work out the exact structure and details of this program,” Vallas said. “But the City cannot afford to continue to ignore this pressing issue. Creating a healthier environment that doesn’t poison the developing brains of our most vulnerable citizens should be a high priority for everyone.”

“Chicago must urgently address the needs of all its communities, especially its low-income neighborhoods,” Vallas said. “I can’t think of any better way to begin rebuilding Chicago’s communities than by starting with its drinking water supply.”

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