A Call for Timely & Equitable Lead Service Line Replacement

Director of Programs, Kayla S. Jacobs, with a glass of tap water from her home.

by Kayla S. Jacobs, Director of Programs, Laudato Si’ Ministries, Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet

I recently moved with some friends into a home we are renting. Two weeks after moving in we received a letter in the mail from the city informing us that we might have lead in our drinking water. This was less than welcomed news, as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that lead is harmful to health (Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water). Upon reading the letter I had a couple thoughts: 1) it would have been nice to know about this before moving in, 2) it would have been nice to know about this before drinking this water for two weeks. I also had the dilemma of whether or not to buy bottled water, which has its own environmental and economic consequences. 

Unfortunately the risks of having lead (and other heavy metals) in your drinking water is not something unique to the community me and my roommates live in. There are at least 677, 359 lead service lines in Illinois, the most in the country. Additionally a majority of lead service lines are in communities with high Black and Latino populations.  While drinking water with lead in it is harmful for everyone, it is especially harmful for children, pregnant women, and the elderly. In 1986 Congress banned the installation of lead service lines, because of its effects on human health, but they didn’t require the existing lines to be replaced. To acknowledge a problem is one thing, to fix it is another. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis highlights the fundamental human right of clean drinking water, saying: “Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life.” 

For all of these reasons (reasons recap: health, especially for the most vulnerable, racial disparities, and household economics) there needs to be a timely and equitable plan to replace all lead service lines. For many years there has been talk about lead service line replacement in the Illinois general assembly, most recently in the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act (HB 3739) introduced on February 19, 2021, which would require water utilities to find and replace their lead service lines (read more about HB 3739 here). 

Laudato Si’ Ministries of the Diocese of Joliet supports measures, on the municipal, state, and federal level, to replace lead service lines soon and equitably. 

Action steps:

  • Contact your local government for a complete and updated water report.
  • Urge your state elected officials to support policy that replaces lead service lines in a timely and equitable manner. Find your legislators here.  

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