CHICAGO — The City of Chicago is rolling out its plan to replace hundreds of thousands of lead water pipes.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday outlined the first phase of the city’s plan to start replacing lead pipes. There are about 400,000 in Chicago, mainly in single family and two-flat homes.
The mayor said the city’s water is safe and tested often, but lead pipes have been linked to health problems. City officials have long said the water is safe to drink because of chemicals added to the water system, that coat the pipes. But if the pipes are disturbed by road work, or not used for a long time, researchers found lead particles — that can cause brain damage — can get into the drinking water.
The city is rolling out a voluntary program — prioritizing replacements for those who are low-income.
Homeowners who make less than about $72,000 a year for a family of four, with water tests that show consistent lead concentration at 15 parts per billion can apply for a free replacement.
About $15 million in grant funding next year will cover those replacements next year.
Homeowners who want to hire a contractor to do the work are eligible for a permit wavier of about $3,000 dollars.
The mayor says this plan will take years, and a lot more money. She said officials estimate it will be a $8.5 billion program.
This program requires the passage of a city ordinance that’s expected to be introduced to City Council for a vote in November.
Anyone interested can call 311 to get started with a free water test.
Chicago has some of the most lead service lines in the country, largely because the city plumbing code required the use of lead pipes to connect single family homes and two-flats until 1986.