A spigot of federal money opens, clean water one goal

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The Environmental Protection Agency said the country’s aging systems of water pipes are hotbeds for chemical and lead contamination.

More lead service line replacement programs exist in Illinois than any other state and Chicago alone has well over 400,000 lead pipes.

The nonprofit group Elevate wants everyone to have clean, safe drinking water, regardless of income or geographic location.

Patrick MacRoy, vice president of environmental health and water programs for the group, said one demographic has a higher susceptibility to lead poisoning.

“We’ve been focusing on child care facilities,” MacRoy pointed out. “With the State of Illinois, we help administer a program to provide child care facilities with free lead and water testing, to help them meet their licensing requirements.”

Extra attention, he added, is given to home-based child care sites because they are more likely to have a lead service line. Last month, President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $15 billion to replace the country’s weakening pipes.

Part of Biden’s infrastructure law is adherence to the “lead and copper rule,” removing the elements from water pipes by 2034. To better understand the mandate, the Environmental Defense Fund released a new national map of lead service line replacement programs to help locate and replace lead pipes that deliver water to homes.

Elevate’s LeadCare program is focused on lead removal, which MacRoy explains is complicated and expensive.

“You have to open up a hole at the water main to make the connection, run a pipe across the yard and then reconnect it in the home, restore the property to its original condition, whether that’s putting in grass seed or sod, or fixing landscaping or fixing interior drywall that you had to open up to get to where the pipe comes in the house,” MacRoy outlined.

MacRoy added he welcomes federal resources and hopes to work with state and local governments to make sure they are distributed equitably to help neighborhoods that need them the most.

A 2024 study from Johns Hopkins University found 68% of Chicago children of color younger than age six are exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water.

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