Approximately 130,000 kids affected by lead-poisoned tap water in Chicago

Research shows children using unfiltered tap water have double the lead levels in their blood

lead-poisoned tap water

Nearly 129,000 young children in Chicago, aged six and under, are exposed to dangerous lead in the water they drink at home because of old lead pipes, as reported in a study released on Monday.

Using artificial intelligence, the study examined around 38,000 home water tests conducted in Chicago, alongside local demographics, state blood samples, and various other data points.

In Chicago, more Black and Latino families face lead-contaminated water due to old lead pipes. The study estimates that approximately 19% of Chicago children who drink unfiltered tap water have about twice as much lead in their blood compared to those who drink filtered water.

The research, published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health in Jama Pediatrics, highlights the widespread exposure to lead among Chicago’s children and the racial disparities in testing rates and exposure levels.

According to the study, over two-thirds of children in Chicago are exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water. The federal government warns that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, as even small amounts can harm children’s brain development and lead to health issues like preterm births, heart problems, and kidney disease. Despite this, Chicago has more than 400,000 homes with lead service lines, the highest number in any US city.

Public health professor Benjamin Huynh, who co-authored the study with Elizabeth Chin and Mathew Kiang, urges residents to get their water tested for lead and make informed decisions based on the results.

The inspiration for this research came after reading The Guardian’s analysis, which revealed that one-third of home water tests in Chicago exceeded the federal limit for lead in bottled drinking water (5 parts per billion).

The Johns Hopkins study set a stricter threshold, considering any home tests detecting more than 1 part per billion as concerning. This decision stems from the understanding that no amount of lead is safe for consumption, and lead service lines can cause spikes in lead levels, especially after disruptions like nearby construction.

While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates an “action level” of 15 parts per billion, requiring cities to notify the public when a sample of homes exceeds this limit, Chicago remains compliant by this standard.

City spokesperson Megan Vidis assures that Chicago’s water meets and surpasses EPA standards, highlighting initiatives to replace the city’s 400,000 lead service lines and offer free water testing to residents.

Despite the EPA’s proposal for nationwide lead service line removal within 10 years, Chicago has been granted a 40-year timeline due to the extensive number of pipes requiring replacement.

Chakena Perry, an advocate for clean water, calls for distributing water filters to families with lead service lines and expediting replacement efforts.

Mayor Brandon Johnson has pledged to replace 40,000 lead lines by 2027, but experts argue that more aggressive action is necessary to safeguard the population, especially children, from lead exposure. Elin Betanzo, a water safety engineer, emphasizes the importance of prioritizing public health by eliminating lead from the city’s water supply.

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