Illinois General Assembly Approves Bill That Will Eliminate Toxic Lead Service Lines - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Illinois General Assembly Approves Bill That Will Eliminate Toxic Lead Service Lines

Bill requires replacement of lead lines, and establishes state grant and technical assistance program to support communities in this effort

SPRINGFIELD, IL (June 1, 2021) – Following a concurring House vote late last night in favor of the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act (HB 3739), both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly have approved the bill, which requires all water utilities statewide to replace all lead service lines. The bill--sponsored in the House by Illinois Rep. Lamont J. Robinson (D-Chicago) and in the Senate by Illinois Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake)--will become law once Gov. Pritzker signs it. 

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 an eighth of all lead lines in the nation—remain in Illinois. The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act—which has been strongly supported by environmental, public health, housing, and family welfare groups—not only requires replacement of lead service lines, but also establishes a state grant program and technical assistance to support utilities in this work.

“I applaud my fellow Senators for taking action on a common sense measure that will protect Illinois residents, especially expectant parents and children for whom lead exposure is particularly harmful,” said Sen. Bush, who shepherded the bill’s passage in the Senate. “The passage of the bill is long overdue, and I look forward to Gov. Pritzker signing it into law in the coming weeks.” 

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 will protect some of Illinois’ most vulnerable, as communities of color have the majority of lead service lines in Illinois and are disproportionately exposed to other sources of lead, such as paint and soil,” said Rep. Robinson. “We must ensure lead service line replacement is accessible to those who need it most.”

“Access to clean, safe drinking water is essential to life. This law will invest in neighborhoods like Little Village and finally address the health threats caused by lead in drinking water in communities that are already overburdened with other environmental injustices. Illinois is setting a model for lead service line replacement since it’ll take local, state, and federal legislation to ensure that equitable investments in water infrastructure are in place to protect the safety of our drinking water," said Brenda Santoyo, policy associate, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. 

In 2016, Illinois passed a bill requiring childcare providers to test for and mitigate lead in their drinking water. Nonprofit organizations such as Elevate and Illinois Action for Children have been stepping in to support childcare providers as they navigate this process. They say the state’s leadership and support will be very welcome. 

“Illinois’s 2016 legislation to require lead testing and mitigation was an important first step, but it put the burden on the childcare providers who are not responsible for lead service lines,” said Briana Parker, policy manager, Elevate. “To equitably remove lead in water we need to start at the source. We know that lead service lines are the number one source of lead in drinking water, so by eliminating lead service lines we can take that burden off of child care providers and more equitably and effectively protect children in homes across the state.”

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. 

“On behalf of the union plumbers and pipefitters of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, we applaud the General Assembly for taking this opportunity to address the statewide problem of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water,” said Rick Terven, Jr., legislative and political director, Illinois Pipe Trades Association.

Importantly, the bill will 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 attorney for the Safe Water Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), noted, “Lead in drinking water is one of the biggest environmental health threats facing Illinois and the country, but this law will make the state a leader in fixing the root of the problem in an equitable way. As lawmakers in D.C. consider a federal infrastructure package, Illinois is ahead of the pack in showing it is ready to put infrastructure dollars to work.”

“IEC is celebrating another big step forward in tackling lead-contaminated drinking water today,” said Colleen Smith, deputy director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “We are very grateful for the environmental champions in the General Assembly who have stepped up to put an end to this serious public health crisis.” 

“This bill is a win for equity, economic recovery, and resilience in Illinois,” said Justin Williams, policy manager, Metropolitan Planning Council. “We look forward to continuing to support the development of the grant and technical assistance programs to ensure they achieve equitable outcomes.”  

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.

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Read the approved bill. 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, NRDC’s website and MPC’s website

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