Illinois gets an ‘B-’ for efforts to address lead in school drinking water

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

New Illinois PIRG Education Fund study assesses whether state is improving on this pressing issue

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Reacting to pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Illinois PIRG Education Fund gave Illinois a B- grade today for addressing the problem, according to a new national report. In the second edition of Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s Get The Lead Out study, the state showed good progress as Illinois received a D grade in 2017.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, and Illinois is on the right track to protect our kids from lead in drinking water,” said Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr. “Now we need to follow through and get the lead out of faucets and fountains in our schools and pre-schools and pursue further policy change to get the lead out of water service lines to our homes and businesses. ”

As more Illinois schools test their water, they are finding lead.  For example, according to Illinois PIRG Education Fund analysis from last fall, 78% of the 155 schools tested in Cook County School District found at least one tap with lead concentrations of 2 ppb or higher.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Scarr.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

Most schools and pre-schools still have fountains or faucets that contain lead, and wherever there is lead, there is a risk of water contamination.

A state law passed in January of 2017 requires testing for lead in Illinois schools built prior to 1987 within the 2017 year. Schools built between 1987 and 2000 are required to have tested and submitted results to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) by the end of 2018. IDPH requires schools take remediation action for fixtures testing positive for lead.

Advocates are now pushing state decision makers to advance similar policies and to allocate resources in the expected Capital bill to remove lead service lines from homes and businesses. Senate Bill 1532 (Steans), the Reduction of Lead Service Lines Act, is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Environment and Conservation Hearing this morning at 11 AM.