Debra Shore

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My Mission Debra Shore

Could Flint's Water Crisis Happen Here?

January 29, 2016
Flint Water Crisis

Yes, because older homes in Chicago and Cook County may have lead pipes between the water main in the street and the faucet in the home. Even though water filtered from Lake Michigan is treated with chemicals to prevent leaching of lead from old pipes, if water is left standing for some time then some lead may leach from these pipes and show up in the water flowing from the faucet.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the air, soil, and water. The chemical symbol for lead, "Pb" comes from the Latin word plumbum, which is the root of the word "plumbing." Lead was often used in piping and plumbing because it is leak resistant and relatively malleable, allowing it take on a variety of shapes. Over time, scientists and public health officials learned about the adverse effects of lead consumption on human health, and federal lawmakers included a prohibition against any plumbing fixtures that were not lead-free after June 1986. Nevertheless, many people live in older neighborhoods that use lead pipes for conveying drinking water. The American Water Works Association recently estimated that as many as 6.5 million water pipes throughout the United States are made, in part, from lead.

But, no, I doubt lead contamination would happen here on the scale of the crisis in Flint, Michigan. I could be wrong, because examples of craven, dishonest, or ill-equipped public officials emerge in places near and far (look up Crestwood, IL water contamination), but I have confidence in both the professionalism and operation of the public water utilities that treat and deliver our drinking water here in Chicago and Cook County, and I have confidence in the fierce activism of local public health, environmental, and social justice advocacy organizations.

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