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After city finds high lead levels, Lightfoot pauses water meter installation

The mayor reassured residents drinking water was still safe

Lake Michigan in Chicago.

After receiving concerning new data, Mayor Lori Lightfoot halted Chicago’s smart water meter installation program, she announced Tuesday.

City testing found that lead levels rose in 22 percent of homes with new water meters. About 7 percent of homes had levels above federal guidelines for drinking water.

Lightfoot reassured residents that the city’s water was safe and no resident at the affected homes had an elevated blood lead level. The city’s heath department automatically receives results from doctors and labs, and nothing suggests that the water in Chicago is unsafe for residents, Lightfoot said. Plus, water is tested constantly at treatment plants and lead hasn’t been detected there either.

“To ensure that continues to be the case, I have directed the Water Department to stop installing water meters until further notice,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “We are actively working to determine the cause of the increase seen in the latest data, and evaluating our options for reducing water lead levels in impacted homes.”

In 2013 and 2016, the city launched studies to explore the impact of water main construction and meter installation on residential lead levels. At the time, the results didn’t prove a correlation between new meters and higher lead levels, but with more data from this year Lightfoot has decided to be more cautious. For now, no homes will get new meters until the city is able to figure out what caused the spike in lead contamination levels.

The Emanuel administration for years insisted that lead levels were safe. Until a Chicago Tribune report last year showed brain-damaging levels of lead in hundreds of homes that were tested.

Residents with meters can register to receive a free filter set and get their water tested by calling 311. More information about the water meter program and testing can be found on the water department’s website.