Apr 13, 2018

Heightened Lead Levels Found in Hundreds of Chicago Homes' Tap Water

Many homes demonstrated lead levels over the 5 ppb standard for drinking water set by the U.S. FDA

Toxic lead levels in tap water found in hundreds of Chicago homes

According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of a 2-year study, hundreds of Chicago homes exhibited heightened levels of lead in their tap water. Specifically, the report found lead present in 70% of the 2,797 Chicago homes analyzed.

Three of every 10 homes included in the study yielded lead levels over 5 parts per billion (ppb). However, the U.S. EPA’s federal limit for lead levels in tap water is 15 ppb, while the level administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is 5 ppb for bottled water. High levels of lead are especially harmful to children, as no safe level of lead in the blood has been identified for the demographic.

“My immediate take is that Chicago has a lead problem,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Nobody should panic here. This is a problem that has to be dealt with, but it’s not a cause for panic. In the meantime, fortunately, children can be protected here simply by switching water sources.”

The Chicago Department of Water Management claims there is no reason for worry, as the city consistently falls well below EPA standards. The new report has also been thrust against the backdrop of further unrest regarding lead levels in Flint, Mich., as Michigan Gov. Snyder recently announced a cessation of free bottled water provided to the city’s residents.

Whether or not Chicago will take further action based upon its findings remains to be seen, but Landrigan believes the city should test children’s blood for elevated levels as well as locate the source of the lead, especially because lead poisoning is difficult to recognize.

“If children are tested, if they’re put through testing and so on, the effects will show up, but when you look at the child from across the room, for example, the child will look OK,” Landrigan said. “They’re not going to be obviously sick. This is what’s been referred to as silent poisoning.”