New law requires replacement of lead lines, prompts calls for federal funds from Congress
CHICAGO (August 30, 2021) – Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, making Illinois the third state in the nation to require full replacement of lead drinking water pipes, which can deliver toxic lead in each glass of water. The bill signing creates a path for resources from federal infrastructure legislation that could require lead pipe replacements across the nation. Illinois has more lead pipes than any other state in the nation, with at least 686,000 connecting homes to water mains.
“I am so proud of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing this critical legislation with strong bipartisan support,” said Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), who shepherded the bill’s passage in the Senate. “In signing this bill, Gov. Pritzker has helped catapult Illinois to the forefront of states taking meaningful action to tackle the pervasive public health threat that lead service lines pose to communities across our state.”
Illinois now joins Michigan and New Jersey as one of only three U.S. states mandating full lead service line replacement. For decades lead was used as a primary material for water service lines, the pipes that bring drinking water into our homes. Although Congress banned the installation of lead service lines in 1986, most lines installed before then were never removed. As the state with the most lead service lines in the country, the public health threat posed by this outdated lead drinking water infrastructure in Illinois is greater than those faced by any other state.
“I appreciate Gov. Pritzker’s partnership in signing this bill into law,” said Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-Chicago), chief House bill sponsor. “Now that it’s on the books, this new law will prioritize some of Illinois’ most vulnerable, as communities of color see the majority of lead service lines in our state. Everyone deserves clean drinking water.”
The bill requires the replacement of all lead lines, while prioritizing replacement in high-risk populations, based on a 2020 Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) analysis showing Black and Latinx residents in Illinois are twice as likely as whites to live in communities with the most lead service lines.
“Clean, safe drinking water is absolutely essential to health and wellbeing, and the fact that we’ve asked communities of color to forgo this basic need for decades is unconscionable,” said Brenda Santoyo, senior policy analyst at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “It’s past time to make serious infrastructure investments in communities like Little Village that are already overburdened with other environmental injustices.”
As Congress considers President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan, Illinois is now better positioned than ever to demonstrate the immediate impact that significant water infrastructure funding would make in Illinois. The federal proposal would spur the implementation of the new law. Advocates are calling on Congress to secure $45 billion in federal funding nationwide.
Jeremy Orr, senior attorney for the Safe Water Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), noted, “Lead in drinking water is one of the biggest environmental health threats facing Illinoisians and people throughout the country, but this law will make the state a leader in equitably fixing the problem. As lawmakers in D.C. consider a federal infrastructure package, Illinois is ahead of the pack in showing it is ready to put those infrastructure dollars to work.”
“This is a historic milestone in our 21st-century work to protect public health, particularly in working-class and communities of color,” said Colleen Smith, deputy director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “It’ll take bold Congressional action to ensure that water infrastructure investments are made in Illinois at the level necessary to tackle the sweeping lead-contaminated drinking water problem thoroughly and equitably.”
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 MPC analysis.
“On behalf of the union plumbers and pipefitters of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, we applaud Gov. Pritzker for taking this opportunity to address the statewide problem of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water,” said Lynn Karner, Executive Director, Illinois Pipe Trades Association.
“Not only will this endeavor eliminate a pervasive neurotoxin from our drinking water, but replacing all of Illinois’ lead service lines will also help put Illinoisans back to work. Licensed plumbers in Illinois will be replacing hundreds of thousands of lead pipes,” said John D’Amico, director of political affairs, Plumbers Local 130, UA.
Importantly, the bill bans partial replacement of lead service lines, 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, increasing the risk of lead leaching into drinking water.
“This bill is a win for equity, economic recovery, and resilience in Illinois,” said Justin Williams, policy manager, Metropolitan Planning Council. “We look forward to continuing to support the development of the grant and technical assistance programs to ensure they achieve equitable outcomes.”
Supporters of the bill include Illinois Environmental Council, Metropolitan Planning Council, Elevate, Natural Resources Defense Council, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Illinois Action for Children, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, League of Women Voters, Illinois Pipe Trades Association, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, and Faith in Place Action Fund.
Read the approved bill. For additional information about the issue of lead in our drinking water and how this bill will help prevent lead poisoning, improve equity, and put people to work, visit IEC’s website, NRDC’s website and MPC’s website.