Illinois joins Michigan with plan to remove all lead pipes from water systems

November 16, 2019
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Every lead service line in Illinois must be replaced in the coming decades under a new law (HB 3739) that sets varying deadlines for different-sized water utilities. According to the Illinois Environmental Council, close to 700,000 homes in the state are connected to water mains via lead service lines; that is higher than any other U.S. state. As a region, too, the Midwest has a disproportionate number of lead pipes carrying water to homes.

Over the next few years, all water systems in Illinois must submit a plan tor replacing their lead service lines. The timeline for full replacement in a local service area ranges from 15 to 50 years, depending on the number of lines that need to be removed. Every local water utility will be required to remove a certain percentage of lines every year; priority will be given to projects in preschools, day care centers and other facilities where high levels of lead are of particular concern.

As part of this new law, too, the General Assembly has established a Lead Service Line Replacement Fund; a new advisory board will make recommendations on long-term, dedicated revenue options.

Three years ago, with adoption of a new Lead and Copper Rule, Michigan became the first U.S. state to require the removal of all lead service lines (by 2041). That state’s action came in the wake of a public health emergency in the town of Flint, where toxic levels of lead in drinking water led to an uptick in deaths from Legionnaires’ disease and lead poisoning among children. This year, a lead-in-water crisis has hit the southwest Michigan town of Benton Harbor. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said all of that city’s lead service lines will be replaced within 18 months.

Across the Midwest, much more federal money will be available to states and local governments to move ahead with these types of projects. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act appropriates $15 billion for replacing lead service lines. The Brookings Institution has estimated the cost of a full, nationwide replacement to be between $28 billion and $47 billion.