Evanston is set to receive $1 million from state of Illinois capital funds to assist the city in replacing lead service lines in south Evanston.

“There is this issue with lead pipes that is all across the country,” said State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, at the announcement at the Ridgeville Park District community house. “But we certainly see it in communities of color. South Evanston is a community that has a number of Black and brown communities all across this area. So I sat down with Mayor [Daniel] Biss and Alderman [Devon] Reid, and we talked about what we could do for this community and lead pipes was just the thing that consistently came up.”

From left: State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago; Eighth Ward City Council Member Devon Reid; and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., discuss the urgency for replacing lead pipes in Illinois’ communities of color at a Friday news conference. Credit: Gina Castro

Simmons announced he secured the funding at a Friday news conference with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and City Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, standing on either side of him.

“For years, we’ve tried to address lead,” Schakowsky said. “It’s been historically in lead paint, and let’s face it, often it is communities of color – but not only, because here we are in Evanston, Illinois – that have been suffering from the consequences of lead in drinking water.”

Illinois has more lead service lines than any other state in the U.S. There are 700,000 known lead service lines in Illinois, Schakowsky said. 

Mayor Daniel Biss wasn’t able to attend the press conference because of issues with his vehicle. But in September Biss spoke at the One Water Summit. He said the city is working to replace its 11,471 lead service lines, which he estimated will cost $168 million in 2021 dollars.

A shot from the film, “Take Action Against Lead,” about lead water pipes.

The Illinois Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act mandates the replacement of the city’s lead service lines. But without additional funding, Biss said, the work would require the water rate for retail customers to increase by more than 70%. 

“This [funding] is going to be bringing resources to a community that has been underserved for far too long,” Reid said in reference to south Evanston. 

Exposure to lead can cause a variety of health problems, according to the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, including child developmental delays in effects on children’s and adults’ nervous systems. 

Community concerns

The RoundTable spoke with Loretta Jackson and Sharon Woodfork, two Eighth Ward residents who attended the news conference.

“It’s been an issue for years, so to have someone actually get the money to invest and take care of the problem – it’s great news,” Woodfork said.

Jackson and Woodfork said they worried about the safety of their water. They both use water filters at home. Jackson buys bottled water, which can be expensive, she said. Jackson even uses a filter on her shower head. 

“I am concerned about the drinking water, especially for our babies and also for mature adults,” Jackson said.

It’s unclear exactly how many lead service pipes $1 million will replace, but Simmons is certain it will make an impact in the community.

“I think that this is going to make a real difference for residents of south Evanston and fairly soon,” Simmons said.

None of the elected officials at the press conference knew the number of lead service pipes in south Evanston or in the Eighth Ward. The RoundTable followed up with the city official who would know, but the official had not responded by deadline.

Timeline for replacing pipes

Simmons said the estimated time for beginning replacing the lead pipes in south Evanston is “ASAP….This is something we’re going to move on quickly.”

There is a public side of the lead service lines and a private side, which connects to the resident’s home, Reid explained. “We need to change both of those at the same time,” he said. “You can’t change the public line without changing the private line because then you have an increased risk of carcinogenic chemicals and compounds and lead getting into the system.”

Reid said the $1 million from the state will most likely help cover the private line side for residents.   

Simmons assisted with passing bills addressing lead pipes in Illinois. He sponsored HB4369 in the state Senate, which passed both houses and was signed into law. The law, which strengthens the lead mitigation process by requiring follow-up state inspections to be sure lead hazards are remedied, will take effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

Simmons also co-sponsored the Illinois Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which went into effect ln January 2022.

Schakowsky discussed her progress addressing this issue at the federal level. President Joe Biden passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, which provided $15 billion for lead pipe replacement projects across the country. 

Schakowsky recognized that this amount won’t cover the nationwide costs of entirely eliminating lead pipes, but said, “It will really help a lot of families be able to have the assurance that every family should have – that when you turn on the faucet, that water should be safe and not a hazard for your children.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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  1. As a resident of South Evanston this is very good news. When will we have a timetable of which streets will be done and when? How will this impact the homes that will be affected? Thank you.

    1. Dear Sheila, We will do our best to tell you when we know. But your council member will likely know before we do. I would sign up for the ward newsletter. My best and my thanks, Susy Schultz, editor