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Originally published October 6 2013

Chicago citizens to be exposed to alarming levels of lead from city water as old pipes get upgraded

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) It's bad enough that the city of Chicago is facing financial problems similar to those of Detroit; now, local taxpayers are being forced to pay for being poisoned.

For decades, the city installed lead water pipes, but in recent years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered a problem that has been tainting the water supply. Per the Chicago Tribune:

Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city's aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.

Once it's in the water, lead tends to stay there for years

The city installed its lead pipes until the 1980s when connecting water mains to homes. EPA researchers say levels of lead can leach into homeowners' tap water when the pipes are disturbed by street work or altered by water main replacements and meter installations.

What's more, high levels of lead can be found in tap water for years and years afterward, according to an EPA study. And that has raised fears that the contamination could be occurring in other U.S. cities that utilized lead water main pipes.

And of course, homeowners are in the dark about potentially drinking contaminated tap water, because under federal regulations, utility companies are rarely required to warn users when work is being done or inform them that they need to take measures to limit their exposure to the lead. "A potent neurotoxin, lead can damage the brains of young children, lower IQ and trigger learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life," the Tribune reported.

Indeed, lead is so hazardous that the EPA as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there literally is no safe level of exposure. Lead has long since been phased out of regular and unleaded gasoline, taken out of paint and banned from children's toys.

However, lead pipes were widely used last century, and that's created a large and growing problem around the country.

"We owe it to people to tell them that their water might not be safe to drink," Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech University who was not involved in the EPA study but has come to similar conclusions in his own research, told the Tribune.

A separate report on the website Chicagoist reported that the EPA study "found lead levels far higher than the 15 parts per billion federal limit were more likely to be found in Chicago homes where street work or water system work disturbed old pipes, and that the levels can be found in water for years after initial detection."

Furthermore, the site reports, "City officials are telling homeowners to run water from faucets for 3-5 minutes and to remove aerator screens from faucets to clear out any sediment. The EPA says that should be done every time a faucet hasn't been in use for several hours."

Earlier research confirms the lethality of lead in water

Werner Troesken, of the National Bureau of Economic Research, laid out the massive problem of lead pipes in general in a 2003 working paper. He says that by 1897, about half of all American municipalities used lead water pipes - and that the pipes had a definite effect on mortality rates.

In his paper, he used data from 1900 Massachusetts to reach these findings:

In the average town in 1900, the use of lead pipes increased infant mortality and stillbirth rates by 25 to 50 percent. However, the effects of lead water lines varied across cities, and depended on the age of the pipe and the corrosiveness of the associated water supplies. Age of pipe influenced lead content because, over time, oxidation formed a protective coating on the interior of pipes.


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