The Wall Street Journal reports three residents filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago on Thursday, alleging that water main replacement projects over the past several years have exposed people across the city to higher levels of lead in drinking water.
The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges that Chicago “has known for years that the work it is undertaking to replace water mains and meters is causing elevated and unsafe lead levels in the water traveling through lead service pipes that pour directly into residents’ homes.”
The lawsuit alleges that the city’s replacement of water mains has increased lead contamination, because the process typically only partially replaced lead service lines, which run between the mains and residences. Studies have shown that replacing part of a lead line can cause the metal to leach into water systems. This can come from disturbing the coating inside old pipes or through chemical reactions from the addition of other metals, like copper, in new sections of pipe.
Chicago has more lead service lines than any other U.S. city, with roughly 80% of properties in the city receiving water via lead pipes, according to the lawsuit. It also says that since Jan. 1, 2009, the city has undertaken more than 1,600 water main and sewer replacement projects.
The Chicago plaintiffs are seeking to recover the costs of testing to detect lead poisoning in them and their children. They also want the city to fully replace their service lines.