Chicago has a lead problem that may rival the contamination in Flint, Michigan, according to The Guardian. The publication analyzed years of Chicago tap water tests (conducted for residents between 2016 – 2021) and discovered that 1 in 20 of the tests performed by the city showed lead levels at or above U.S. government limits. Out of 24,000 tests, 1000 had lead levels exceeding the federal standard of 15 ppb in drinking water. More than 30% of the tests had lead levels exceeding the FDA standard of 5 ppb lead for bottled water. This is extremely concerning because lead exposure is linked to a host of health effects.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause irreversible damage, which is why many health experts say there is no safe level of lead. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends lead levels under 1ppb to protect children whose brains are particularly susceptible to the metal. Even low levels of lead have been linked to lower IQ levels, behavioral disorders, and poor reading and math performance in children. In adults, low levels of lead can cause kidney problems and high blood pressure.
The size of the problem is much greater than Chicago’s current water testing shows, however, because most homes with lead service lines in the city have not even been tested yet. In fact, Chicago has an estimated 400,000 lead pipes supplying water to city homes, more than any other city in the country. This is partly because Chicago inexplicably kept a law– requiring lead pipes be used to connect homes to the city’s water system–on the books until 1986, years after most large cities had banned them.