Lead water pipes are a major public health risk, especially in Peoria that has among the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. Illinois recently passed legislation calling for replacement of lead service lines carrying water from the street to homes.
Peoria could have up to 10,000 lead service lines carrying water into homes. These are primarily older homes constructed prior to the 1980s when lead was banned for water lines.
While this legislation is widely supported as an important public health measure, cost remains a divisive issue.
Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, supports the notion of replacing lead water pipes but fears this legislation may prove too costly for local water companies and could force many of them to sell out to corporations.
Spain notes that the infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden has earmarked federal dollars for the cost of replacing lead water pipes, and he hopes that aspect of the infrastructure plan passes this summer.
Replacement must include main water lines under the streets and service lines from the street into homes, he said.
Karen Cotton, spokeswoman for Illinois American Water Co. said there are no lead water main lines in the Peoria District.
The Biden infrastructure plan calls for $45 billion to eliminate all lead pipes and service lines. Up to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare facilities nationwide still have lead service lines carrying water from the main street lines into homes.
“Without that (federal funding), municipalities can’t afford this and may throw up their hands and sell,” Spain said. “There are no incentives for appropriate price controls for selling a water system.”
Peoria does not own its water system. Illinois American Water Co. provides water to the city and many surrounding areas. Spain said Illinois American can afford to buy out other water companies even at inflated prices because the acquisition costs are covered by water rate payers, not shareholders.
Spain voted no on the purchase of Illinois American Water Co. when he was on the Peoria City Council because valuation of the company was impossible to assess, the city was not able to examine the books of the corporation and the appraisal was inflated, he said.
While he does not support the current state legislation, Spain said he is working with the chief sponsor Rep. Lamont J. Robinson Jr., D-Chicago, and is hoping amendments can be added to deal with costs.
The legislation, HB3738, the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to establish fees from all community water suppliers. It also requires the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to establish a comprehensive low-income water assistance policy to help low-income customers.
In response to submitted questions, Karen Cotton, spokesperson at Illinois American Water Co. in Peoria, wrote:
- A corrosion inhibitor (chemical) is added to water to prevent lead leaching from pipes into water. Lead service line replacement is part of the company’s ongoing investment in the state.
- The new Illinois legislation requires systems reporting between 1,199 to 10,000 lead service lines to complete replacement in 15 years, and Illinois American Water Co. will work to comply with this requirement.
- The company will not provide information on what areas of the city have high numbers of lead service lines in order to maintain customer confidentiality.
- “Our scientists, along with the EPA, have determined when we are replacing our service lines, it is in the customer’s best interest to replace customer lead service lines at the same time. It is also more convenient for the homeowner to allow our team to replace the entire service and allows for better coordination. We are working to do just that, and the IL legislation (pending Governor approval) supports this work as it requires lead service lines to be replaced from the main to the customer’s home.”
There is no safe level of lead contamination. At one time, levels of up to 15 ppb were considered safe but advances in science have shown lead is dangerous even at extremely low levels and can result in brain damage, lowered IQ, low impulse control and impaired organ function. There is a strong correlation between childhood lead poisoning and incarceration.
Lead poisoning disproportionately harms poor communities. Estimates are 500,000 children in the United States have elevated levels of lead poisoning.
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June 30, 2021 at 11:04PM