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The Evanston Water Utility takes Lake Michigan water into its Lincoln Street treatment center, cleans and purifies it and distributes it to Evanston, Skokie and other places. From the City-owned and -maintained pipes, the treated water flows through a line called a “water service” or a “service connector” into homes, offices, and businesses.  The City, which treats and cleans the water in several stages, is responsible for the water only until it reaches private property.

“Current City ordinance indicate that the City is responsible for the pipe from the water main to the shut-off valve in the parkway, and the property owner is responsible for the pipe from the shut-off valve in the parkway to the meter in the home,” the City’s Public Works Director Dave Stoneback told the RoundTable.

Concerns About Lead

The tragedy of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., has increased awareness of and concern about the possibility and disastrous results of lead in drinking water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has set a health goal of having no lead in any drinking water “because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time.” The goal is based on the health risks; but because it is only a goal, it is non-enforceable.

The annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) prepared by the City states there is “no detectable lead in the water provided to the Evanston community.” (See sidebar.)

Even so, lead can enter the drinking water from lead pipes, lead solder or plumbing fixtures in the home or business, the report says. Homes built before 1986  are likely to have lead pipes, but newer homes generally have copper pipes, said local plumber Bill Brown. He reminded this writer that the word “plumber” comes from “plumbum,” the Latin word for lead.

As a caveat the CCR says, “The Evanston Water Utility is responsible for providing high quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components.” 

Lead Pipes

The service connector or water connector, where the City pipes connect with private pipes, is one place to start looking for lead. Mr. Stoneback said the “vast majority” of service connector pipes are constructed of lead.

Darrell King, the City’s Water Production Bureau Chief told the RoundTable, “Lead service lines are generally a dull gray color and are very soft. You can identify them easily by carefully scratching with a key. If the pipe is made of lead, the area you’ve scratched will turn a bright silver color. Do not use a knife or other sharp instrument and take care not to puncture a hole in the pipe. The age of the lead pipe can typically be determined by the year the house was built, also municipalities possess records that could indicate when the original service line was installed. In homes built prior to 1960, the service line was constructed of lead pipe.  Between 1960 and 1980 plumbers began using copper rather than lead, but some lead pipe was still installed. The service line to homes built after 1980 were constructed of copper.”

When the City installs new water mains, there is only a “partial service replacement,” Mr. Stoneback said. The old pipe is replaced with copper but only between the water main and the shut-off valve in the parkway, he said. The City will share with residents the cost of replacing lead service lines through its Lead Service Line Replacement Program. The property owner must pay for replacing the water service line from the home to the valve in the parkway. Once that has been done, the City “will replace the portion of the water service from the parkway to the water main located in the street at no expense to the property owner,” according to information from the City’s website, which also details the specific requirements to participate in the program.

Other information about lead water-service lines is available on the USEPA website, www.epa.gov/gound-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drnking-water.

Lead and Brass
Solder contaianing lead, which is used to connect metal piping, has been banned for use in household plumbing since 1987, according to the City.

Brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder can create the most common problems, because “significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water,” according to the USEPA, which also says concerned homeowners can have their water tested for lead, at a cost between $20 and $100.

Almost all faucets, valves and fittings have brass components, and until 2014 those sold in the United States and labeled “lead-free” could contain up to 8% lead, according to the City. Since the beginning of 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act specifies that these materials may not contain more than 0.25 percent lead, according to the City’s website.


According to the USEPA website at epa.gov/safewater/lead, services pipes containing lead can corrode if water has high acidity or low mineral content.

“Evanston’s water is classified as ‘medium hardness,’” Mr. Stoneback said. “Naturally softer water is more corrosive than naturally harder water. Evanston’s water is slightly corrosive, which is why we add the blended phosphate for corrosion control. This deposits a thin layer of phosphate on the inside of pipes to prevent the drinking water from directly touching the metal and prevents the lead from leaching out into the water,” he added.

Information on the City’s website says that since 1992, the City of Evanston complies with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1991.  This rule “requires utilities at risk for lead and copper in the water to add an approved chemical to control lead and copper levels in drinking water.” 

The blended phosphate added at the Water Utility helps control corrosion in the pipes by depositing “a thin layer of phosphate on the inside of pipes to prevent the drinking water from directly touching the metal,” according to that information. The City tests for compliance using samples from faucets in homes and businesses “to ensure that drinking water reaching the consumer is safe,” according to information on its website. 

For the past few years, the City has been repairing water pipes using cured-in-place piping (CIPP). In this process, the original pipe is lined with a bag or lining, and hot water is flushed through to seal the new liner to the old pipe. Mr. Stoneback told the RoundTable, “The chemical used in CIPP lining does not impact the phosphate coating on the inside of the lead water service.”

More information on the Lead and Copper Rule can be found at water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsregs/sdwa/lcr/index.cfmt.


Certain in-home filters do help remove lead, and it is important for homeowners to check what metals and pollutants these filter. 

NSF International, which began as the National Sanitation Foundation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1944, is an independent, not-for-profit organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment. NSF International advises that consumers use only NSF International-certified filters.

As a special supplement to the Flint tragedy, NSF lists detailed information about filters at nsf.org/newsroom/consumer-guide-to-nsf-international-certified-lead-filtration-devices.

A section called “How Filters Reduce Lead in Water” describes how filters allow water to flow through absorption media that capture contaminants such as lead. These contaminants remain inside the filter, so the filters must be changed regularly.

Minimizing Risk

Even without further testing, homeowners can take some measures to reduce lead in their drinking water:

When water in a faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, the cold-water pipes should be flushed until water is as cold as it can get – which could take as little as 30 seconds or as long as two minutes or more.

Only cold water should be used for eating and drinking – and especially in mixing baby formula. Boiling water will not get rid of lead contamination.

If a homeowner suspects that lead has entered the water in the home, all faucets should be flushed using these steps: 

1. Remove faucet aerators from all cold water taps in the home.
2. Beginning in the lowest level of the home, fully open the cold water taps throughout the home.
3. Let the water run for a least 30 minutes at the last tap you opened (top floor)
4. Turn off each tap starting with the taps in the highest level of the home. Be sure to run water in bathtubs and showers as well as faucets.
5. Do not consume tap water, open hot water faucets, or use icemaker or filtered water dispenser until after flushing is complete.

Those wishing additional information can access the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.  

CCR Report: No EPA Violations in City Water

Again this  year, City-treated water has been found to meet “all United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and State of Illinois drinking water health standards and has had no violations to report,” according to this year’s Consumer Confidence Report (CCR).  The USEPA requires all drinking-water providers prepared a CCR each year. Though not mandated to be completed until July, the City’s CCR is already on the City’s website, cityofevasnton.org.

Among the highlights of the report are that the USEPA says “the quality of Lake Michigan water has improved dramatically over the past 25 years,” in part because of regulations restricting industrial waste and sewage-treatment effluents from entering the lake.  At present, the report says, “The primary sources of pollution threatening Lake Michigan include air deposition (pollution from the air, rain and snow), runoff and industrial discharge.”

Whether from a bottle or the tap, drinking water “may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk,” the report says, recommending that anyone wishing additional information call the USEPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

The City also recommends drinking tap water rather than bottled water: “Lake Michigan is a great source of drinking water and the water undergoes treatment overseen by qualified water plant operators and laboratory personnel.  Tap water is highly regulated, and is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than bottled water.”

Residents may request a hard copy of the City’s Consumer Confidence Report by calling or texting 311.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...