Homes in Illinois Found to Have Lead Levels as Bad as Flint, Report Finds

Illustration for article titled Homes in Illinois Found to Have Lead Levels as Bad as Flint, Report Finds
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Flint, Michigan, is considered ground-zero for contaminated water, but a recent analysis conducted by the Chicago Tribune found that homes in the state of Illinois have lead levels that are just as bad. “More than 8 of every 10 Illinoisans live in a community where brain-damaging lead was found in the tap water of at least one home during the past six years,” according to the report.


The data comes from samples collected by the state’s 1,768 water utilities under federal regulations. Just a small number of homes are monitored by each utility but the tests show a widespread threat to public health when combined. The main source of the lead exposure was traced to pipes known as service lines that connect houses to water supplies. The report notes that Illinois has more of these lines made of lead than any other state, and Chicago, where much of the state’s Black and people of color population lives, has the most of any other city.

Here is more from the Tribune:

Between 2015 and 2020, tap water in dozens of Illinois homes had hundreds and even thousands of parts per billion of lead — just as extreme as what researchers found during the same period in Flint, where mismanagement of the public water system exposed children to the toxic metal and drew a world spotlight to the scourge.East Moline found one home with 3,000 ppb of lead in tap water, records show. The Rockford suburb of Loves Park detected 2,700 ppb of lead in a home. Southwest of Joliet, the water system in Coal City found 1,260 ppb of lead in one of its samples.Utilities in the three cities were among 224 statewide where at least one home had lead levels at or above 40 ppb, a threshold the U.S. EPA once declared an “imminent and substantial threat to pregnant women and young children.” Others in the Chicago area included Bartlett, Cicero, Lake Barrington, South Elgin and Wauconda.Nearly 60% of the state’s water systems found at least one home with levels greater than 5 ppb — the Food and Drug Administration’s limit for bottled water.

University Park, a predominantly Black community, had the worst levels of lead-in-water issues. According to the Tribune’s analysis of data from the Illinois EPA, samples of tap water collected since 2019 had as much as 5,300 ppb of lead and averaged 54 ppb.

“There is no training for a water crisis,” said Mayor Joseph Roudez. “The experience has been horrible, and it’s still horrible.”

The full report can be found here.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.


There’s a great map which shows concentrations of lead by county in the US. The conclusion is urban areas have the highest lead levels and western, rural areas have the least. However, states are not required to report lead poisoning so the data is inconsistent.