Bill would protect public health, safe drinking water for millions of Illinoisans
SPRINGFIELD, IL (May 13, 2021) – Following bipartisan passage by the Illinois House of Representatives of the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act (HB 3739), which would require all water utilities statewide to replace all lead service lines, Senate action is needed to eliminate this public health threat. The bill is sponsored in the House by Illinois Rep. Lamont J. Robinson (D-Chicago) and in the Senate by Illinois Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake).
For decades lead was used as a primary material for water service lines, the pipes that bring drinking water into our homes. Congress banned the installation of lead service lines in 1986, but most lines installed before then were never removed. At least 686,000—approximately 1/8 of all lead lines in the nation—remain in Illinois. The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act—which has garnered broad support from environmental, public health, housing, and family welfare groups—would not only require replacement of lead service lines, but also would establish a state grant program and technical assistance to support utilities in this work.
“We’ve known for decades that no amount of lead is safe to consume, yet lead service lines persist in counties across our state, posing a serious threat to public health,” said Sen. Bush. “I’m urging my fellow Senators to vote in favor of this bill to protect Illinois residents, particularly expectant parents and children for whom lead exposure is especially harmful.”
The bill requires 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.
“This bill is especially important for communities of color, which not only have the majority of lead service lines in Illinois, but which also are disproportionately exposed to other sources of lead, such as paint and soil,” said Rep. Robinson. “This bill will require that lead service lines are replaced regardless of residents’ ability to pay, protecting our most vulnerable, including childcare providers and residents in low-income Black and Latinx communities.”
“I voted in favor of HB3739 because it’s better to invest in the public health of Illinois rather than continuing to pay the price of leaving this toxic infrastructure in the ground,” said Illinois Rep. Mark Batinik (R-Plainfield). “Between healthcare, education, criminal justice, and other costs we as a state are already paying because of increased lead exposure, the costs of inaction are simply unacceptable. It makes good economic sense to get out in front of this problem and invest in Illinois’ public health, rather than continuing to pay for the problem as we’re doing now.”
In 2016, Illinois passed a bill requiring childcare providers to test for and mitigate lead in their drinking water. Licensed childcare provider MariCarmen Macias of Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood said that, to date, the onus has been on individual childcare operators to figure out how to test and solve for this widespread problem—and she welcomes the state’s leadership and support.
“Lead is a serious threat, especially for children. It can cause brain damage and other lifelong health problems,” said Macias. “Lead service lines have affected not only my family, but also my livelihood. I urge the State to step up to take responsibility for solving this problem for all Illinois children and families.”
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.
“Millions of Illinois citizens are impacted by unsafe levels of lead in drinking water, disproportionately affecting our poorest communities and our most vulnerable citizens. State lawmakers have the opportunity to address this problem statewide, and on behalf of the union plumbers and pipefitters of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, we pledge our support in addressing the growing public health crisis,” said Rick Terven, Jr., legislative and political director, Illinois Pipe Trades Association.
Importantly, the bill would ban 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, actually increasing the risk of lead leaching into drinking water.
Jeremy Orr, senior staff attorney for the Safe Water Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), noted, “Illinois is the state most impacted by this toxic infrastructure, but now has the opportunity to be a national leader in fixing the problem. This bill applies best practices from cities and states like Michigan that have taken action on the lead scourge. By tackling this problem now, Illinois can be ahead of the pack in showing the federal government that we’re ready to put infrastructure dollars to work.”
“Though IEC affiliates have been working with environmental champions in the General Assembly to pass comprehensive lead service line replacement legislation over the past five years, this progress is decades in the making,” said Colleen Smith, deputy director, Illinois Environmental Council. “Lead service lines have posed a serious public health crisis for too long and it’s time for the legislature to finally pass a comprehensive strategy to protect Illinois children and families.”
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 current legislation. 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, and MPC’s website.