M. Spencer Green

Environmental concerns around lead in water pipelines are rising across the U.S. as Flint, Mich.'s crisis stretches on, and now Chicago could be facing its own problem.

In 2009, the city started replacing old water pipelines that are over a century old, and according to CityLab writer Laura Bliss, 80% of Chicago residents receive water from pipes that date before 1986 when lead pipes were banned.

Problem is, as the city has worked to replace mains and meters, it has beenreplacing only small portions of the lead service lines that connect to the new infrastructure. Multiple studies by the EPA and university researchers have shown that partial replacement of lead service lines disturbs the chemicalcoating that protects service lines, allowing dangerous levels of lead to leachinto the water supply for weeks, months, or even years.

No one knows at this point how many Chicagoans may or may not have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their water. Chicago has conducted more than 1,600 water main and sewer replacement projects since January 2009, which, according to the lawsuit, “directly affect the water supply to Chicago residents.” Just how those residents may have been affected, and what the city plans to do about it, remains to be seen.

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