Chicago Begins Testing Tap Water in Schools, Homes for Lead

Chicago residents can now call 311 to have their tap water tested for lead, and 28 city schools are being tested under a new pilot program to evaluate potential health risks posed by lead water pipes.

The new testing measures for the city’s aging water system were announced Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, which insists “Chicago water meets or exceeds state, federal and industry standards,” according to a city statement.

The announcement comes in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and less than three weeks after former Water Management Department commissioner Tom Powers resigned. The testing will be implemented under new commissioner Barrett Murphy, Powers’ former top deputy.

Residents who request a water quality test should hear back from the city within two business days to schedule a test, with results provided within three weeks and posted online. If lead levels are above 15 parts per billion, the threshold for consumption, a Water Management team will help homeowners come up with a “plan of action,” city officials said.

Testing began “out of an abundance of caution” this week at 28 Chicago Public Schools chosen on criteria including the age of the school, its students and the condition of pipes, officials said. About 80 percent of city buildings are connected to water mains by lead pipes, which were banned in 1986.

“While CPS has no indication that there is any lead present in school water, CPS has launched a pilot program to develop a standard approach for testing across the district,” the city statement said.

Water Management already conducts 24-hour quality testing of the water it sends to Chicago and 125 suburbs. An anti-corrosive is added to water to form a coating on the inside of pipes to keep lead or other contaminants from leaching into the water. The additional testing is intended “to reassure the public of the quality of Chicago water,” officials said.

Here are the 28 Chicago schools being tested:

  • Burr
  • Canty
  • Coonley
  • Crown
  • De Diego
  • Dett
  • Ericson
  • Evers
  • Hefferan
  • Jackson
  • Jamieson
  • Jungman
  • Kellman
  • Kozminski
  • Lenart
  • Mays
  • Neil
  • Nicholson
  • Parker
  • Pritzker
  • Saucedo
  • South Shore ES
  • Stagg
  • Sumner
  • Tanner
  • Washington ES
  • Webster
  • Westcott
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