CITY HALL — When Mayor Lori Lightfoot halted the installation of water meters in Chicago homes after city officials found elevated levels of lead in more than one in five metered homes they tested, she urged worried residents to test their water.
But less than 30 percent of Chicago residents who asked city officials for a kit to do just that during the past three months have received their test results, according to data provided to The Daily Line by the Department of Water Management.
Of the 7,364 kits residents requested between April 1 and July 1, residents returned 3,695 to the Department of Water Management. However, city sent results to only 2,188 households, records show.
Kits returned to city officials are sent to an outside lab for processing. Water Department spokesperson Megan Vidis said she did not know how long it took on average for city officials to get results and send them to residents.
“Turnaround time varies based on the availability of the lab,” Vidis said.
In addition, Vidis said she did not know how many kits were waiting to be tested.
“This number fluctuates daily with demand and the capacity of the lab which is also processing results from other locations,” Vidis said.
Chicago residents can also schedule an appointment to have a Department of Water Management representative to come to their home to take water samples.
The kits include three sample bottles. One is for water collected after the water has been off for six hours. Another for water collected after the source runs for three minutes. The third is collected after five minutes. Results — identified by block rather than individual address — are posted online.
Homes that have a meter or have water that has tested positive for elevated levels of lead can request a free filter set, which includes a water pitcher and six cartridges to remove lead.
Only 10 percent of eligible homes have made that request, officials said.
Data gathered as part of a study of 510 homes found that 22 percent of residences with new water meters had elevated levels of lead, the mayor’s office announced last week. Of those homes, 7.1 percent had lead levels above the 15 parts per billion action level set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Lightfoot said the city’s water is safe and officials are investigating the source of the elevated levels of the brain-damaging chemical for which there is no safe amount in drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The EPA requires water agencies to act to reduce lead when more than 10 percent of tap water samples exceed the lead action level of 15 parts per billion. Chicago has met that standard annually based on a sample of homes tested by officials, a point city officials have repeated.
The Tribune reported in 2013 that EPA researchers found the installation of meters and the replacement of water mains were linked to high amounts of the toxin, because lead pipes that are disturbed by street or plumbing work can release the material into the water supply.
For nearly 100 years, city law required that lead pipes be used to funnel water to single-family homes and small apartment buildings. Federal law banned the use of lead pipes in 1986, when it was discovered that they could cause brain-damaging toxins to leach into the water. The city considers water delivery pipes – or service lines – to be the responsibility of the property owner.
Residents concerned about lead levels should flush or run water continuously for five minutes after it has been stagnant for six hours or more to reduce lead levels and exposure, city officials said.