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Getting the lead out? New state law requires water suppliers to submit plans to remove lead service lines

State Sen. Melinda Bush, a lead sponsor of the legislation, said the lines are a “health threat that not only costs us billions of dollars, but poisons our children and undermines our residents’ confidence” in their water supply.

State Rep. Lamont Robinson speaks during a news conference Monday to discuss a bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed on Friday that requires all lead pipe water service lines in Illinois to be replaced.
State Rep. Lamont Robinson speaks during a news conference Monday to discuss a bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed on Friday that requires all lead pipe water service lines in Illinois to be replaced.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Legislators and advocates of removing the state’s lead service lines said Monday a newly signed law moves the state closer to removing that “toxic infrastructure” and ensuring all Illinoisans have clean water to drink.

State Sen. Melinda Bush, a lead sponsor of the legislation, said the lines are a “health threat that not only costs us billions of dollars, but poisons our children and undermines our residents’ confidence” in their water supply.

“Passing this bill with strong bipartisan support demonstrates a fundamental truth about lead in our drinking water — it affects all of us, and every single one of us, especially our children, deserve clean, safe drinking water,” the Grayslake Democrat said.

 State Sen. Melinda Bush speaks during a news conference at the Plumbers Local 130 UA on the Near West Side Monday afternoon.
State Sen. Melinda Bush speaks during a news conference at the Plumbers Local 130 UA on the Near West Side Monday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Lead Service Line Replacement Notification Act, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Friday, creates timelines for owners and operators of community water supplies that have known or suspected lead service lines to take an inventory of those lines and create replacement plans. Water suppliers will have until April 2024 to submit their replacement plan to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The law also requires the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to create a low-income water assistance policy and program to ensure state residents have access to affordable, clean water.

Lead in drinking water has long been linked to a host of health problems, including kidney failure, heart disease, learning disabilities and impaired hearing. Studies have found that even tiny amounts of lead can damage children’s brains.

State Rep. Lamont Robinson, D-Chicago, was a lead sponsor of the measure in the House. He said it’s estimated that Illinois has about an eighth of all known lead service lines in the country.

Service lines are the pipes that carry water from a municipality’s street mains to homes.

Chicago Department of Water Management employees at a water main break on the Northwest Side in January 2019.
Chicago Department of Water Management employees at a water main break on the Northwest Side in January 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Not only does Illinois have one-eighth of the lead service lines in the country, but 300,000 to 500,000 of them are in Chicago, according to the Illinois Environmental Council.

“Although this is a statewide problem, we know that this toxic infrastructure disproportionately affects Illinois’ people of color,” Robinson said.

“Everyone deserves to have clean drinking water. This will eliminate environmental injustice, and this will ensure that people of color in Illinois are set to get their fair share of the 11,000 jobs that will be created by replacing lead service lines across this great state.”