Aluminum air pipes

Years Later, Lead Pipes Remain in Chicago

My mother applied for the Chicago Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program for the past two years. In response, she only got rejections after jumping through hundreds of hoops.

Marcelina Pedraza at her home in the East Side neighborhood of Chicago on June 3, 2021. Pedraza had her water tested for lead in January 2020, and lead was present in three samples.

Taylor Glascock for NRDC

If you ask someone which US city has the biggest problem with lead-contaminated water, they might immediately answer Flint, Michigan, or Newark, New Jersey, reminiscent of those high-profile lead crises.

But they might not know that my hometown of Chicago has over 400,000 lead pipes potentially contaminating water across the city, more pipes than any other city in the country. And a recent survey of the Guardian found that one in 20 tap water tests performed for thousands of Chicagoans found lead at or above US government limits, and a third had more lead than allowed in the bottled water. Notably, nine of the top 10 Chicago ZIP Codes with the highest percentages of high lead levels were neighborhoods with black majorities and latin residents.

While I has been growing up it was absolutely on your mind. In my parents’ house, we always drank bottled water, like most families in southeast Chicago.

My neighborhood is also heavily industrialized with some of the dirtiest and most dangerous facilities in the city. Steel mills, concrete crushers and scrapyards all fill the air with Pollution. There are contamination issues in the soil, air, and the water.

As I got older, I discovered that no amount of lead is safe when consumed, and as a parent, that’s really concerning. It occurred to me that this is why my mother probably made us drink bottled water when we were growing up, as she knew about the detrimental effect of lead on growing minds and bodies.

Our water pipes are basically just lead straws that our kids drink from, and I don’t think the city or Mayor Lori Lightfoot takes that seriously.

This is evident in Chicago’s new process for low-income residents: the Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program. My mother qualifies for the program because she is low income, retired and disabled. My sister Giuliana also lives with her, as well as my 13 year old nephew. My mom was really excited when she found out about this program and the possibility of not having to buy bottled water anymore and being able to put a glass under her tap and safely give cool water to her grandson in full growth. But much to his dismay, this application process has been a nightmare.

There are so many complicated steps she has had to go through over the past two years to try to qualify for the program. From getting a deed to his house and showing his utility bills to getting a report card for my nephew from his Chicago public school. Then there was the struggle to get all those documents uploaded to the city’s website, which kept crashing. As my sister told the Guardian: “I’m not exaggerating; I would say it took us about 12 times. It was just too much. She continued: “Last summer we were still getting notices from the city that more documents were needed, although we don’t know which ones. It’s really annoying. »

And the last headache my mom had to go through was getting a valid driver’s license. Due to the pandemic, there is a moratorium on obtaining licenses but with this application, she had to obtain a valid license. We had to drive her into town to sit at the DMV, and she’s disabled.

It doesn’t seem fair to have to complete 13 checklists to qualify for this program. It was an arduous process with a lot of back and forth. And to this day, my mother still sees her application rejected for missing a few key documents.

But she is very persistent and hopeful that in the future she will have her main service line replaced because it is something she takes very seriously.

The city has committed to replacing many lead service lines, and the fact that these promises from the mayor go dissatisfied flies seriously under the radar. In 2020, the mayor announced plans replace 650 lead pipes by the end of 2021, but as of this month only 180 of the city’s 400,000 lead pipes have been replaced.

And instead of creating a better process for applying for the Equity Line Replacement Program, the mayor’s solution was to create Chicagwa — Lake Michigan canned water — to promote clean drinking water in the city. Chicagwa really felt like a slap in the face and not a fix that the people of Chicago needed.

The city claims that this fresh water goes through a 10-step purification process, but fails to mention the most important factor: you can go through all of these purification processes with faucet water, but it still goes through a lead service entrance which is very toxic to humans.

The mayor tries to convince everyone that everything is fine and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a public relations campaign when she really needs to spend those dollars investing in Chicago’s infrastructure and health.

The city needs to fix this ASAP because at the rate we are going it will take hundreds of years to replace all of Chicago’s lead service lines. During my son’s lifetime, I want him to be able to put a glass under his tap and drink healthy water. And I know that’s what my mother always dreamed of.

We try to be persistent and patient with this application process, but frankly, it’s been awful.

And after two years of struggling with this application process, you have to find the humor somewhere. When I asked my mom on her second try if she had finally been approved, she said, “Gina, I don’t know what else the city wants from me. I gave them everything they needed for this application. I feel like the city wants to see my underwear now.

Although it’s really funny, it’s also very sad because the process shouldn’t be so difficult. My mother is trying to enjoy her retirement, trying to create a better life for my nephew and for my son when we go to visit her, and the city just makes it impossible. Hopefully the city pulls together and creates a fairer process to replace lead service lines in Chicago.