Evanston to replace lead pipes in 8th Ward

Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Evanston has more than 11,000 lead pipes, but after a $1 million federal grant, the city hopes to replace the pipes in the 8th Ward.

Evanston’s infrastructure includes more than 7,000 public lead pipes, which can cause cancer and other diseases.

How many Chicago There are many leading service lines in the Evanston suburbs. Many of Evanston’s pipes were built in the 20th century, before the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 tightened federal regulations. The pipes still need to be replaced. The city is trying to address the lead pipe problem, but Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the process could take decades.

Reid asked Senator Mike Simmons (D-Chicago) to help replace pipes in South Evanston. According to his office, Simmons sponsored legislation to secure $1 million in federal funding for the 8th Circuit.

“The state of Illinois has given municipalities a contract to replace all of their leading service lines over the next several decades, but this is an unfunded contract,” Reid said. “That’s why we will certainly need additional funds from the state or federal government.”

After the Flint, Michigan water crisis, Illinois passed an unfunded state mandate that required municipalities to do so substitute lead pipes.

While lead pipes remain throughout the city, Simmons said he wants to prioritize funding for the 8th Ward, which includes a majority of residents of color and faces health injustices compared to other parts of Evanston. The Evanston Project on Local Needs Assessment, a report on Health Injustice, released in the fall, found economic and health disadvantages in historically marked parts of the city.

“For too long, lead in our drinking water has exposed our neighbors to adverse health effects,” Simmons said in a statement to The Daily. “This funding provides long overdue resources to address an issue that is systemic in nature, has evolved over decades and often causes the greatest harm to black and brown communities, such as those who call South Evanston home.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead contamination can damage the central nervous system, cause learning or behavioral problems, and, in rare cases, cause seizures, coma, or death. Pregnant women and children are at higher risk.

But Reid said it will take time to address the 8th Ward leadership. According to Reid, about 11,000 locations in the community have lead service lines. He said the city is currently identifying where to begin the replacement project.

Public pipelines run from Evanston’s waterworks and split into various private lines for homes and buildings. In the past, the city only replaced its mains, leaving lead pipes next to individual homes.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, homes with partially replaced lead piping pose a higher risk of lead poisoning than homes without lead piping.

“You’d think you’d make the water safer by replacing at least some part, but what actually happens is you’re making the water a lot more dangerous,” Reid said.

Reid said more money is likely needed to help Evanston replace all of his lead pipes. Paul Moyano of the city’s Public Works Agency said homes in “low- to middle-income areas of the city” need lead-free utility lines, which are often supported by city programs.

Evanston has approximately 30,000 residential units, the vast majority of which were built before the Safe Drinking Water Act. Dick Lanyon, former executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and former chairman of the Evanston Utilities Commission, said the danger of lead pipes was not public knowledge when many of these homes were built.

“We knew there was a problem with water leaching lead ions out of the pipe (in the 1980s),” Lanyon said.

But to this day, Lanyon, 85, lives in a house in Evanston with lead pipes.

Replacing lead plumbing with newer materials — like copper, cast iron and plastic, Lanyon says — will reduce the risk of negative health effects.

“That’s really important,” Reid said. “Water anywhere that has lead service lines is not ideal or safe and so we are changing that.”
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Twitter: @JSFredricks

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