Health

About 68% of children in Chicago exposed to lead-contaminated water

The EPA states drinking water containing any amount of lead is unsafe, and even low levels of lead consumption can result in developmental problems.

Child drinking water.
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A new study has found that a significant number of children in Chicago are being exposed to lead in their drinking water, with increased levels of exposure among Black and Hispanic households.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tested tap water in 38,385 homes from 2016 to 2023, and based on that sample found that about 68% of kids under 6 years old in Chicago were drinking water containing lead.

The study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, states that out of that 68% exposed to lead, 19% of them (22,400) used unfiltered tap water as their main source of water, with Black and Hispanic populations being less likely to be tested for lead exposure and more likely to have contaminated water sources. 

“Many cities across the U.S. still have lead service lines in their water systems, including Chicago, Illinois, where lead pipes were mandated until the 1986 federal ban,” the study notes. “Chicago is estimated to have nearly 400,000 lead service lines (where 1 line serves approximately 1 household), the most of any U.S. city. Despite efforts to identify and replace lead service lines, progress has been slow, with only 280 (0.007%) lead pipes replaced by the city government from 2020 to 2022.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, drinking water containing any amount of lead is unsafe, and even low levels of lead consumption can result in developmental problems. 

"In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells," the EPA states. 

In 2023, the EPA proposed that cities across the U.S. replace lead service lines they control within 10 years, but since Chicago has a more extensive lead pipe problem than any other U.S. city, it needs 40-50 years to replace them, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A pediatrician talks about the EPA's lead pipe replacement plan
A pediatrician talks about the EPA's lead pipe replacement plan

A pediatrician talks about the EPA's lead pipe replacement plan

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and whistleblower who dealt with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, says the plan will help protect kids.

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