Lead water pipes: an invisible threat to public health

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Lead water pipes pose a major risk to public health, especially in Peoria, which has one of the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the country. Illinois recently passed a law calling for the replacement of lead service lines carrying street water to homes.

Peoria could have up to 10,000 lead service lines carrying water into homes. These are mostly old houses built before the 1980s, when lead was banned from water pipes.

While this legislation is widely supported as an important public health measure, the cost remains a divisive issue.

Ryan Spain Representative R-Peoria backs the idea of ​​replacing lead water pipes but fears the legislation will prove too costly for local water companies and could force many to sell to companies.

Spain notes that the infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden has earmarked federal dollars towards the cost of replacing lead water pipes, and it hopes that aspect of the infrastructure plan will pass this summer.

The replacement is to include the main water lines under the streets and the service lines from the street to the houses, he said.

Karen Cotton, spokesperson for the Illinois American Water Co., said there are no lead water main lines in the Peoria district.

Biden’s infrastructure plan provides $ 45 billion to phase out all lead pipes and service lines. Up to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and daycares nationwide still have lead service lines carrying water from main street lines to homes.

“Without it (federal funding) municipalities cannot afford it and can raise their hands and sell,” Spain said. “There is no incentive for proper price control for the sale of a water system. “

Peoria does not own its water supply system. Illinois American Water Co. supplies water to the city and many surrounding areas. Spain said Illinois American can afford to buy out other water companies even at inflated prices, as acquisition costs are covered by taxpayers, not shareholders.

Spain voted no to buying Illinois American Water Co. while serving on Peoria City Council because the valuation of the company was impossible to assess, the city was unable to reviewing the company’s books and the valuation was inflated, he said. .

While not supporting the state’s current legislation, Spain has said it is working with the main sponsor, Representative Lamont J. Robinson Jr., D-Chicago, and hopes amendments can be added. to meet the costs.

The legislation, HB3738, the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set charges for all community water providers. It also requires the Ministry of Trade and Economic Opportunities to establish a comprehensive policy to assist low-income people in water supply to help low-income customers.

In response to questions submitted, Karen Cotton, spokesperson for the Illinois American Water Co. in Peoria, wrote:

  • A corrosion inhibitor (chemical) is added to the water to prevent leaching of lead from pipes into the water. The replacement of the lead service line is part of the company’s continued investment in the state.
  • New Illinois law requires systems to report between 1,199 and 10,000 lead service lines to complete the replacement in 15 years, and Illinois American Water Co. will endeavor to comply with this requirement.
  • The company will not provide information on areas of the city with a high number of main service lines in order to maintain customer privacy.
  • “Our scientists, along with the EPA, have determined that when we replace our service lines, it is in the customer’s best interest to replace the customer’s primary service lines at the same time. It is also more convenient for the owner to allow our team to replace the entire service and allows for better coordination. This is exactly what we strive to do, and IL legislation (awaiting governor approval) supports this work as it requires the replacement of lead service lines from the principal to the customer’s home.

There is no safe level of lead contamination. At one time, levels up to 15 ppb were considered safe, but advances in science have shown that lead is dangerous even at extremely low levels and can lead to brain damage, lower IQ, low impulse control and impaired functioning of organs. There is a strong correlation between childhood lead poisoning and incarceration.

Lead poisoning disproportionately harms poor communities. It is estimated that 500,000 children in the United States have high levels of lead poisoning.


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