Chicago has the highest number of lead service lines in the nation, but the city’s replacement program is moving at a glacial pace. Replacement and mitigation efforts in other states offer a better blueprint — and potential to create community jobs along the way.
Gina Ramirez grew up hauling cases of bottled water from the store to her home on Chicago’s South East side. It was exhausting and expensive, but her family had no choice. The water from the tap in her home, like many others in her neighborhood, was contaminated with lead.
Lead is a powerful neurotoxin with irreversible impacts, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has designated this week as National Lead Prevention Week. Exposure can cause brain damage in early childhood, harm the fetuses of pregnant women, and trigger miscarriages. Even low levels of lead exposure can cause kidney problems and heart disease in adults. Like many other heavy metals, it accumulates in the body over time. There is no known safe level of lead exposure.