It’s been in the wind for years. Ever since the news broke in 2014 of the Flint water crisis, one detail in local reports kept catching my eye. While stories made note of the plight of Michigan residents, they also seemed to mention off-handedly that while lead pipes abounded in Flint, they paled n comparison to the amount just west in Chicago, the unofficial capital of the disastrous ducts.
Similar to the somewhat obvious flow of housing prices in the city, the looming lead problem appeared to be surface level to homeowners and city officials without garnering much attention from either or the media.
In fact, while other cities similar to Chicago have moved to overhaul their lead pipe systems, city administrators here have gone the opposite direction, only abandoning the practice in 1986, the year lead pipes were banned nationwide. In a 2016 piece titled “As other cities dig up pipes made of toxic lead, Chicago resists” in the Chicago Tribune, writes:
“Chicago has more lead service lines than any other city and required them by law until 1986, when Congress banned the use of the brain-damaging metal to convey drinking water. But as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes ahead with expensive plans to modernize Chicago’s water system, administration officials say it is up to individual homeowners to decide whether it is worth replacing the pipes at their own expense.”
Of the $412 million Emanuel has borrowed from a federal-state loan fund during the past six years for water-related projects, none is going to replace lead pipes.”
He continues to say that instead, the money was instead used to update water mains to prevent leakage, a move that invariable raises the possibility of Chicagoans consuming
lead-tainted water through their lead pipes connected to their homes.
It’s not just homes, either. A study by WTTW also conducted between 2015-2016 found that an overwhelming amount of public schools in the city also had rates of lead in their water that violated federal guidelines.
While city officials continue to offer sweet deals to contractors across the city raising cranes into the sky, they do so without tackling the kind of everyday issues that affect the citizens they’re meant to serve. It was the city that demanded the implementation of lead service lines, particularly as connections to homes and buildings from the street. That’s the same part of the pipeline that’s been identified as the source of many high lead rates. True to form though, Chicago officials and leaving it up to homeowners and landlords to replace the water intake pipes.
Replacing the pipes can cost somewhere between $15,000 to $18,000, plus an additional $3,500 for city permits to perform the work. Knowing that most homeowners don’t have a cool $20,000 laying around, it is a problem that Chicagoans will likely face for years to come. As if it weren’t bad enough that the city has passed the burden to those it put in danger, essentially offering a shrug solution to a problem that has devastated the city of Flint, Michigan and caused developmental problems for children and adults in the area.
As of now, there is now definitive plan from the city to address the current issue of lead-tainted drinking water and it appears our only true recourse is bottled water, perhaps a lean from the administration into another capitalistic inference. But, as millions are spent in tax deferments, useless basketball stadiums, unnecessary police academies and much more, it seems like we could make room for a budget to fix the pipes in town. Will Rahm answer the call and make it happen? Probably not.