Getting the Lead Out Protecting Chicagoland’s Drinking Water

While Flint, Michigan may have been the highest profile case of water being contaminated with lead in recent years, lead is an issue that water systems across the country have to navigate and monitor closely.

Earlier in the year, there were elevated lead levels found in New Jersey’s largest public school district in Newark, according to Twenty-six public schools in Chicago were found to have dangerous levels of lead this year, according to DNAinfo Chicago, and according to Florida Today, almost 50,000 people were potentially exposed to unsafe lead levels in drinking water between January 2012 and June 2015. 

The crisis in Flint, Michigan originally began in April 2014 when officials changed the water source from Lake Huron and treated rivers in the Detroit basin to the Flint RIver, from which officials had failed to add anti-corrosive measures. Thereafter the drinking water had a series of problems that culminated with lead contamination, creating a serious public health danger. The corrosive Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, causing extremely elevated levels of the heavy metal. 

Piping Up

Despite all of this, lead in the water system isn’t something that most people tend to think or even worry about during their day-to-day lives. Part of the reason for that is because local municipalities and water companies go to great lengths to make sure that the water is not only safe, but will remain so as it travels through the pipes and into our homes—no matter what those pipes are made of.

“If they look at the water chemistry, they can add something that helps maintain the scale that's built up on the inside of lead pipes, typically it is going to be orthophosphate, to keep the lead from dissolving into the water,” says Greg Kail, the director of communications at the American Water Works Association, a non-profit focused on managing and treating water. 


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