Lead found in tap water samples in Niles, Skokie, Park Ridge, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, per investigationLead
A six-year investigation of tap water in Illinois showed more than 8 out of every 10 residents live in a community where lead was found in tap water, including local suburbs, a Chicago Tribune analysis found.
Between 2015 and 2020, tap water in dozens of Illinois homes had hundreds and even thousands of parts per billion of lead, the analysis found. The samples were collected under federal regulations by the state’s 1,768 water utilities.
Most exposure to lead in water can be traced to pipes known as service lines that connect homes to municipal water supplies.
While lead levels appear elevated in some areas of the state, several north and northwest suburbs showed varying degrees of lead levels and the number of samples found to contain lead, according to test results.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress that lead is unsafe to consume at any level.
Nearly 60% of the state’s water systems found at least one home with levels greater than 5 ppb, which is the Food and Drug Administration’s limit for bottled water.
In Lincolnwood, where the village collected water samples from 120 participating homes between 2015 and 2020, a sample at one residence was found to have lead measuring 523 parts per billion (ppb), one of the larger amounts reported to the EPA in the area.
Lincolnwood Public Works Director Nadim Badran called the results a “sampling error,” but also said the home that was tested had been vacant for a month prior to the testing.
“The water we tested was stagnant and sitting in the line for a long time,” he said.
The sample appears to be an anomaly in the village of 12,590 residents, but 27 other samples did show a lead content between 5 parts per billion and 40 parts per billion, according to EPA data.
Since switching to Evanston as a water supplier last year, Lincolnwood is now required by the EPA to conduct more frequent water testing, Badran said.
The village, which is in the process of replacing all of its municipal water mains, is allowing residents to sign up to have their old lead service lines replaced as well, he said.
“We’ll identify how many homes have lead in their systems and invite them to be included in our bid contract,” Badran said.
The municipal lines under replacement do not consist of lead piping, he said. It is the individual home service lines that can be made of lead, Badran said.
Park Ridge: determining number of lead service lines
Park Ridge Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim echoed this statement, saying that while no Park Ridge water mains are made of lead, some older homes built prior to the late 1970s may still have lead service lines.
“As we have been installing the new self-read (water) meters city-wide, we have recorded what type of service line is entering the house,” Zingsheim said. “By the time they are finished with the project, we will know exactly the number of lead lines in town.”
Between 2015 and 2020, 60 water samples were collected from homes in Park Ridge, with eight of them containing above 5 ppb of lead, EPA data shows. The highest amount of lead in a sample was 11 ppb.
Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie
In neighboring Niles, 214 samples were taken, with 38 of them containing above 5 ppb, but none above 22 ppb, according to the EPA.
Mitch Johnson, spokesman for the village of Niles, said residents with lead detected in their water were notified and provided with recommendations for reducing lead levels.
In 2020, two samples were found to contain lead levels above 15 ppb, Johnson said. One was a vacant home with water that had been stagnant, and the other sample was taken from a faucet in a home not used regularly by the resident, he said.
While village water mains are not made of lead, there are “many” service lines consisting of lead pipes, Johnson said.
“The village is responsible for those from the (water) main to the water shutoff/b-box,” he said. “Then the property owner is responsible from that point to the building.”
In Morton Grove, out of 209 samples, just two contained more than 5 ppb of lead, with a maximum of 16 ppb reported, the data showed.
Skokie, with a population of 64,784 people, tested 60 samples with six containing lead above 5 ppb. The maximum amount in a sample was 11 ppb, according to the data.
Norridge, Harwood Heights
Norridge tested 60 samples with three containing lead above 5 ppb, with 32 ppb recorded as the highest amount, according to the EPA.
In Harwood Heights, 40 samples were tested with three containing above 5 ppb of lead. The maximum amount of lead detected was 7 ppb, the data showed.
Residents can use a searchable database from the Chicago Tribune to see the amount of lead found in water systems throughout the state.
Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne contributed to this story.