How Safe is Your Chicago Home’s Drinking Water?

August 07, 2011

The water that you use to brush your teeth, cook your food and fill your body with might contain high levels of lead.

Local utilities are required to test water in a small sample of homes and alert residents if lead levels are found to be high. The city of Chicago hasn’t found a major problem in almost 20 years.

But there are concerns that tests performed over the last two decades might be outdated, so the Environmental Protection Agency recently sampled drinking water from 38 Chicago homes using different methods and found high levels of lead in seven of them, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

This is a big deal. Lead is a toxic metal that has been found to lower intelligent levels in children and cause heart attacks and strokes in adults. You can’t taste or smell lead in your water, so you wouldn’t even know you are consuming it.

The “allowable” amount of lead in water, 15 parts per billion, was set in the 1990s.

Experts now believe that lead could pose an underestimated health risk and that there is no safe level of exposure.

Lead gets in water through service lines, pipes, faucets, solders and fittings, especially in communities with older homes, like Chicago.

According to the EPA, your drinking water could have high levels of lead in it if:

*Your home has faucets or fittings made of brass.

*Your home or water system has lead pipes.

*Your home has copper pipes with lead solder and was built before 1988.

The EPA is studying the new tests, but you can protect yourself and your family with a few simple steps in your Chicago home:

*Hot water pulls more lead out: Always use cold water for drinking and cooking.

*Don’t bother boiling: While it will kill bacteria, boiling can actually concentrate the amount of lead in your water.

*Let it run: Allowing the faucet to run for 60 seconds before using the water will help flush out lead levels. If you have a lead service line, let it run for two to three minutes prior to use.

*Scrub: Regularly clean the aerators on faucets, which can accumulate particles.

*Other uses: Don’t worry about washing clothes, dishes and yourself in your water. Lead is not absorbed through the skin.

If you are really concerned about the levels of lead in your home’s water, get it tested. Your local water company will probably perform a test for you, usually for under $100.

You can’t put a price on peace of mind.

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