WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Right now, Illinois has an opportunity to pass legislation that would eliminate lead service lines in Illinois, protecting the health and safety of millions of Illinoisans and creating thousands of jobs around the state. Lead service lines demonstrate the direct connection between environmental policy and public health, as we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan. The lead crisis here in Illinois is just as dire. And the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the already urgent need for action.
No amount of lead is safe to consume, yet for decades lead was used for water service lines, the pipes that bring drinking water into our homes. Congress banned the installation of lead service lines in 1986, but most lines installed before then were never removed. Illinois has the most lead service lines in the nation. Black and Latinx Illinois residents are disproportionately affected by exposure to lead.
Even low levels of exposure can lead to learning disabilities, stunted growth, lower IQ, impaired hearing, and behavioral issues in children, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as reproductive and kidney problems in adults. These serious health problems come with staggering costs that accrue to all of us. For example, in 2017, 1,470 Illinoisans died prematurely from heart disease that was attributed to lead exposure, costing nearly $28 million in hospitalization costs alone.
WHAT IS PROPOSED?
The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act
The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act would require all water utilities to find and replace their lead service lines while setting forth a feasible timeline based on national best practices. The bill would also establish a funding source to aid utilities in creating an inventory and replacing lead lines for all affected communities.
Replacing all of Illinois’ lead service lines could also help put Illinoisans back to work by generating thousands of good jobs in the skilled trades. Over 20 years, lead service line replacement could create some 11,225 jobs per year and over $1 billion in related economic activity, according to an analysis by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC).
The bill includes numerous provisions to ensure equity.
In addition, utilities would be required to prioritize replacement at facilities used by high-risk populations, such as preschools and daycares. Also, a portion of the fund would provide water rate assistance for low-income families.
The bill would prevent a practice known as partial replacement, in which only the utility’s side of the lead line is replaced, while the portion of the line that runs under a private property remains. This practice can disturb the lead material in the remaining pipe, actually increasing the risk of lead leaching into drinking water. This practice also harms low-income families.
*Sources: IEC press release on HB3739, IEC action alert
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Illinois General Assembly passed the Lead Services Line Replacement and Notification Act (SB 556 / HB 3739) shortly before session ended on May 31st! We are celebrating because it creates a plan, funding, and timeline to replace all lead service lines in Illinois.
Now, the bill is headed to Governor Pritzker's desk. Contact Governor Pritzker today using the form below and tell him to sign this historic bill into law.