Steans, Trotter: Cannot let Illinois become next Flint

steans trotter leadGrowing national concerns about lead contamination inspired State Senators Heather Steans and Donne Trotter to preemptively sponsor proposals to address the dangerous heavy metal in drinking water and buildings.

Illinois has the second highest prevalence of lead poisoning in the country, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

"We cannot let what's happening in Flint happen here," said Sen. Steans (D-Chicago). "The Flint crisis has diminished the public's trust in our drinking water, particularly in low-income areas, and exposed the flaws in our own system. Improving our water infrastructure can help restore the trust in our drinking water system and make it safer for all people of Illinois."

Sen. Steans' Senate Bill 550, the Lead in Drinking Water Prevention Act, would enact the following:

  • Create a framework for water testing and transparency reporting requirements for all public water systems
  • Create a 'household action level,' requiring any public water system to notify the local health department and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) or IDPH if lead levels in any single water sample exceeds the federal action threshold level
  • Require water suppliers to provide the opportunity for consumers to self-test their water supply and provide results to be analyzed by the supplier in IEPA state labs.
  • Implements required corrosivity testing when a public water system changes its original water supply to a new water supply, ensuring that such a switch will not endanger the public health
  • Require tap sampling in areas where water mains, pipes, or other plumbing fixtures have been replaced, repaired or disturbed to ensure the disturbance didn't increase lead levels in water.
  • Numerous news reports showed discrepancies in water testing practices in Chicago. Low-income city residents disproportionately live in neighborhoods and homes with higher exposures to the dangerous metal.

Assistant Majority Leader Donne Trotter crafted Senate Bill 2300, legislation to prevent the leasing of properties with high levels of lead in building materials and paint.

"An alarming number of old apartments are filled with lead in our state," said Trotter (D-Chicago). "Preventing owners and tenants from passing on the burden to a new owner or tenant can stave off the ill effects of lead contamination."

Older buildings built before 1978 have a higher chance of containing lead-based paint, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It is currently legal in Illinois to lease an apartment with known high levels of lead. Trotter's measure would require rental units to be corrected —not just notified— after they have been identified by a local public authority before they can be re-rented.

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