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Lead pipes, child care centers, foot dragging a dangerous mix for Chicago’s children

2 Feb 2024 2:37 PM | Deborah Hodges (Administrator)

The children at Ruby Williams’ home day care in Austin have been drinking bottled water for years. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Williams wasn’t sure if there were any issues with the tap water in her house that’s more than a century old, but she provided the store-bought bottles to be safe.

In early 2023, the city removed Williams’ lead service line at no cost to her, she said, under a program that prioritizes the removal of the brain-damaging metal pipes from more than 1,500 home child care businesses.

Williams, who cares for six children ranging from 4 months to 3 years old, still won’t give the kids water from the faucets, though she’s grateful for the help. At a cost estimated by the city of as much $35,000 for each lead service line replacement, she couldn’t afford to foot the bill.

That city program aims to replace more than 100 lead pipes from day cares per year, putting the completion at well over a decade.

Considering the vulnerability of the kids — most of them living on the South Side and West Side — the timeline to replace the lead fixtures is unacceptably long, advocates for children say.

“Exposure to lead has severe consequences,” says Caroline Pakenham, director of water programs at the Chicago nonprofit Elevate, “including damage to the developing brain and nervous system.”



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