If you’ve read the news recently, there have been a slew of reports about the high levels of lead found in the Chicago-area water supply. The cause for alarm has been so significant that lawmakers at the state and federal level have recognized the problem and begun the process for mandating the replacement of the city’s aging pipes, though it’s a process that will likely take three decades to complete, experts say. The city’s high levels of lead, which can cause severe health problems, including brain damage (especially in children), even pushed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a fact sheet for Chicago residents on lead in August 2021.

How Widespread Is the Lead Problem in Chicago?

Recent studies have indicated the presence of lead in more than two-thirds of the households in the city. One-third of the households tested found levels above concentrations of 5 parts per billion (higher than the maximum allowed for bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). It’s important to note, however, that the presence of any lead in water can be damaging to health, in a variety of ways, including:

  • Heart attacks
  • Hypertension (high-blood pressure)
  • Kidney problems
  • Impulsivity and learning difficulties in children.
  • Severe brain damage or death (in the worst cases)

Why Does the Chicago Water Supply Contain So Much Lead?

Up until 1986, when the practice was stopped and banned federally, Chicago building codes (much of it due to political pressure from interest groups) mandated the use of lead pipes. Even at that point 35 years ago, more than 400,000 lead lines were already in place – creating the conditions for a situation that has already started to draw parallels to Flint, Michigan, in which children were recently exposed to toxic levels of lead in the water.

How Does Lead Leaching Occur?

In a typical lead pipe, chemicals in the water cause the inside wall of the pipe to corrode, releasing lead ions into the water. Some municipalities do add corrosion inhibitors to the water, which act as a coating for the pipe, blocking the lead ions from leaching into the water supply. But over time, experts think replacing the pipes may be the best option. The problem, of course is that it takes a long time to do so. And at the current proposed pace, the project may not be completed until mid-century.

What Can Be Done in Chicago? Models from Other Cities

Chicago is not the only city dealing with a lead problem. Others such as Gary, IN, Detroit, MI and Cincinnati, OH, also face similar replacement issues. The lessons for Chicago are many but primarily revolve around two areas: cost-sharing and simply getting started now. To read more about the summary of lessons from other cities, check out this WBEZ Chicago analysis.

What Can You Do Personally to Keep Yourself Safe?

The EPA recommends a few things. First and foremost, get your water tested. At Restore Water Solutions we offer a free water quality analysis. We’ll send a technician to your home and test your water for lead and other contaminants. If you do have lead in your water, we’ll recommend a filtration solution that can remove it. Other things you can do:

  • Be aware of any work that could disturb your lead service line (water main replacement or service line repair). Such work could cause more lead leaching to occur.
  • Run water if it has not been used for several hours (to wash away any water that lead has already leached into).
  • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking or baby formulas because hot water can dissolve lead more quickly.
  • Remove your entire lead service line
  • Purchase a water filtration solution from us at Restore Water Solutions.


Lead contamination is a serious problem in Chicago. It’s starting to be addressed by lawmakers, but unfortunately not fast enough where you don’t need to worry about it. Remember, any exposure to lead can be harmful to you. We at Restore Water Solutions encourage you to be pro-active, especially when it comes to dealing with lead, whether that’s for you, your children, parents or loved ones. At Restore, we have water filtration systems that will remove lead from your water – a small price compared to the health risks you might face. Give us a call today and we’ll get you started with a free water quality analysis.  

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