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Is Chicago and Its Suburb's Water Safe From Lead Contamination After Flynt?

A lot of people have been asking: what happened with the water in Flynt, Michigan. Many are concerned if their own drinking water is safe. So how safe is Chicago and its suburb’s drinking water from lead contamination.

The Flynt Story

Flynt, Michigan is located 70 miles north of Detroit and has a population of about 90,000. It at one time held the largest General Motors plant and was a growing community. Its decline started in the 1980’s. By 2011, Flynt’s finances were under the control of the state. A combination events occurred. Its water fund was not solvent and a new water pipe line to Lake Huron needed to be constructed. In an attempt to lower costs, Flynt was connected to the Flynt River as a water source for what was estimated as a 2 year period starting in 2013. In 1967, it started using Lake Huron water purchasing it from Detroit.

The Flynt River was severely polluted since the 1970’s. In 2001, a cleanup order was issued by the state of 134 sites in its watershed.

With the water being 18 times more corrosive than Lake Huron and not being treated with an anti-corrosive agent, the lead service lines began to leach lead into the water supply. The water from the river was not tainted with lead, it was the pipes that were the source. Had an anti-corrosive agent been used, the pipes would not have corroded, leaching the lead.

Lead affects the blood stream of children. It shows up later in learning disabilities or behavioral issues. Although there is a lot of blame to go around as to who owns the lead crisis responsibility, the issue in our community is:

Is our water safe from lead contamination?

Chicago and the western suburbs (70%) gets almost all its water from Lake Michigan. More specifically, from the Jardine Purification Water Plant, near Navy Pier. Yes, many of the service pipes (which run from the water main to the house) are lead (most common in homes built before the1950s). However, the water is treated with, an anti-corrosive agent, such as Polyphosphate. The agent, used to treat Chicago’s pipes, stops the contamination from the old lead based supply pipes.

Still concerned? Alternatives: For those who are still concerned, there are a few options:

  • It has always been recommended that if you have a lead service line and have not used water for a few hours, to run the water a few minutes before using it.

  • Purchase a lead test kit from Lowes or Home Depot and test your water. If you live in Chicago, dial 311, the city tests water for free.

  • If home construction is before the 1986, you can replace any lead supply lines (if it exists). Please be aware that the municipality may use lead in their own supply lines.

Contact your municipality for more information.

  • Various filters do help in the removal of lead and other contaminants. Follow the manufactures guidelines replacing the filter as required.

More recently there has been some concern about Chicago water pipe construction contribution to lead leaching. It appears that Chicago did not alert the public to the alternative precautions above during their construction projects.

Drinking water within schools is being found to be contaminated. School fountains are used immediately vs letting the water run a few minutes before drinking, reducing the possibility of lead contamination. This summer (of 2016), Chicago public school drinking fountains and faucets are being tested for lead levels in the water (23,000 samples in all). As of June 28, 34 schools have tested positive (which does not indicate every faucet is at risk). 2,000 sinks and faucets have been tested. 4% of the faucets tests in the "action" level.

It is going to take a long time to remove and replace the infrastructure of lead pipes in the delivery of some of our water systems. As long as anti corrosive agents are added to the water system, our water is generally safe. Overall, our water is generally safe from lead contamination, especially with education, government transparency and honesty.

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