4. Solutions

Public Utility Lines in Illinois

Patience Wagner, Mia Ye, Finnegan Hautau

The state of Illinois is near the top for having the most lead pipes by population in the US, therefore, replacing them is an incredibly important initiative for its citizens’ health. In August of 2021, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker addressed this issue by passing the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires community water supplies to implement plans for the identification and removal of lead service lines. It also prohibits partial replacement of lead service lines, as removing only part of a lead line can result in more lead entering the water running through them (IDPH). These changes are paid for by the state government, but some funding also comes federally through Biden’s Build Back Better Act, and in some cases, via loans from the EPA. Chicago, for example, is currently receiving a $336 million loan over 5 years from the EPA in order to pay for lead pipe replacement. 

Additionally, part of tackling these lead exposure problems is confronting issues of racism. The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act is supposed to specifically address lead line issues in high risk populations, which in this case are Black and Latinx communities. According to the Metropolitan Planning Council, “People of color in Illinois are up to twice as likely as White Illinoisans to live in the communities where almost all of Illinois’ lead service lines are located” (MPC). The effects of this can be seen in the following visualization:

The graph shows that, compared to the rate of elevated blood lead levels in the White children tested, a larger majority of the Black or African American and Hispanic children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels.  

The first step that citizens can take to prevent lead poisoning is to find out whether or not they are already exposed to high levels of lead from their public utility lines. Fortunately, recent policy has mandated transparency on the part of schools, which are one of the most concerning sources of lead in water for children. According to the Illinois Department of Health, “Schools [built before 2000] were also required to directly communicate with parents and legal guardians if any results were over 5 parts per billion” (IDPH). 

Another source of concern for lead in water is the public water utility line that connects to your home’s piping. According to the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, the state of Illinois trains lead inspectors to test residential buildings for lead in water (ILGA). The IDPH encourages residents to utilize such lead testing services, but offers no resources to contact them, only a list of “approved lead contractors and inspectors” who are employed by a variety of agencies/companies. Illinois residents can contact their local water utility, who can tell them whether or not their water runs through lead utility pipes (IDPH). 

Some solutions for the problem of lead exposure in public water lines are as follows: continuous testing of water systems, treating water with proper protective chemicals, and prioritizing the replacement of lead pipes in public water lines. Other protective measures should be to provide education to the public about what they can do to protect themselves and to provide support to communities that could be affected. 

Continuous and frequent monitoring programs that regularly test the water quality for lead levels can allow for early action. Combined with stricter regulations and standards for lead levels in drinking water, this will create a sense of urgency to repair the problem. One way to solve the issue of lead in pipes is to treat the pipes with proper chemicals that will form a protective barrier inside the pipes to prevent the leaching of lead into the water. This can also be done by adjusting the water’s pH and alkalinity levels to reduce its corrosive properties. Another solution would be to completely replace the lead pipes. Both of these solutions require collaborations with stakeholders between government agencies, water utilities, and communities to secure funding and implement the necessary infrastructure upgrades. 

The public should also be educated on the actions they can do to protect themselves. This could involve providing guidance on preventative measures such as flushing taps, using water filters, and identifying sources of drinking water. Since areas at highest risk for lead contamination are typically those with limited resources, support programs should be provided. These programs could offer access to free or low-cost water filters, conducting outreach initiatives, and offering medical screenings for lead exposure (IDPH).

Note: Because the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act is relatively new legislation, there is very little data available regarding the progress that has been made in replacing the lead lines. What is largely represented on this page is the magnitude of the issue before the legislation was passed in order to demonstrate Illinois’ need for it. 


(77-Iac-845.Pdf, n.d.; 410 ILCS 45/  Lead Poisoning Prevention Act., n.d.-a; 410 ILCS 45/  Lead Poisoning Prevention Act., n.d.-b; 415 ILCS 45/  Public Water Supply Operations Act., n.d.; Chicago Finally Replacing Toxic Lead Pipes during Water Main Work, n.d.; Chicago Has Switched out Only 280 Lead Water Pipes | WBEZ Chicago, n.d.; Data Points: The Environmental Injustice of Lead Lines in Illinois – Metropolitan Planning Council, n.d.; Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker Signs Bill to Replace Toxic Lead Service Lines – Illinois Environmental Council, n.d.; Lead Poisoning Prevention, n.d.; Lead Service Line Information, n.d.; Lead Service Lines, n.d.; PART 845 LEAD POISONING PREVENTION CODE : Sections Listing, n.d.; Public Act 0613 102ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY, n.d.)

77-iac-845.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://dph.illinois.gov/content/dam/soi/en/web/idph/files/77-iac-845.pdf

410 ILCS 45/  Lead Poisoning Prevention Act. (n.d.-b). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1523&ChapAct=410%20ILCS%2045/&ChapterID=35&ChapterName=PUBLIC%20HEALTH&ActName=Lead%20Poisoning%20Prevention%20Act

415 ILCS 45/  Public Water Supply Operations Act. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1593&ChapterID=36

Chicago finally replacing toxic lead pipes during water main work. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/environment/ct-toxic-lead-pipes-chicago-20230430-a4kv66sk5nd33ialiukrq2id2m-story.html 

Chicago has switched out only 280 lead water pipes | WBEZ Chicago. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-has-switched-out-only-280-lead-water-pipes/648673dc-933c-42d3-a78d-f98cff8f8291

Data Points: The environmental injustice of lead lines in Illinois—Metropolitan Planning Council. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.metroplanning.org/news/9960/Data-Points-the-environmental-injustice-of-lead-lines-in-Illinois

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker Signs Bill to Replace Toxic Lead Service Lines—Illinois Environmental Council. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://ilenviro.org/illinois-gov-jb-pritzker-signs-bill-to-replace-toxic-lead-service-lines/

Lead Poisoning Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/lead-poisoning-prevention.html

Lead Service Line Information. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://epa.illinois.gov/topics/drinking-water/public-water-users/lead-service-line-information.html

Lead Service Lines. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/lead-in-water/lead-service-lines.html

PART 845 LEAD POISONING PREVENTION CODE : Sections Listing. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/077/07700845sections.html

Public Act 0613 102ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/102/102-0613.htm

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