Chicago Residents File Class-Action Lawsuit Against City Over Water Contamination

Plaintiffs say ‘elevated and unsafe’ levels of lead have contaminated water supply for years due to risky construction projects

Chicago residents have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city over the safety of its drinking water, claiming that “elevated and unsafe” levels of lead have contaminated their water supply for years due to risky construction projects.

Photo of faucetPhoto by Luis The lawsuit claims that Chicago has one of the highest concentrations of lead pipes in the US.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday at the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, claims that the city of Chicago has known for years that lead has seeped into drinking water due to street work, water meter installations or plumbing repairs, but failed to warn residents about the risk of lead in their water.

The city’s “negligent and reckless conduct” has caused a substantial risk to residents, the lawsuit states, without proper warnings. The three named plaintiffs in the case want the city to pay for diagnostic testing, as well as replace all of Chicago’s lead service lines in full.

The lawsuit states that the residents have shown symptoms of elevated lead levels, although testing has yet to confirm this.

Studies have shown that lead pipes carrying water into homes can be shaken or damaged by nearby construction work. This disturbance can cause the lead lining of the pipes to fracture and leech into the water, causing dangerous contamination.

An Environmental Protection Agency report from 2013 identified the problem in Chicago, warning that the city’s attempts to upgrade its water system could pose health risks from toxic metal poisoning. City officials have questioned the EPA’s findings, claiming that Chicago’s water is completely safe from lead contamination.

“We believe the city of Chicago knew well the risks and dangers of toxic lead contamination associated with these construction projects but chose to turn a blind eye to its own, allowing this mounting problem to become a widespread public health issue across the city of Chicago,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the law firm representing the residents.

“The city has fully abandoned its duties to its residents. The city of Chicago has put the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of residents at risk by allowing alarming levels of lead into the water supply and failing to arm residents with any knowledge of how to avoid contamination.”

A spokesman for Chicago’s department of water management said: “While we have not yet reviewed the lawsuit, Chicago’s water is safe and exceeds federal, state and industry standards,”

“The department of water management provides the cleanest, best tasting water possible; aggressive programs that protect our water supply from lead and thorough testing methods allow us to continually achieve this goal.”

Chicago is struggling with a legacy of lead service lines throughout the city. Although the installation of lead pipes was banned nationally in 1986, the lawsuit claims that Chicago has one of the highest concentrations of lead pipes in the US. Nearly 80 percent of Chicago’s homes receive drinking water via lead pipes.

One of the named complainants, Tatjana Blotkevic, said that her husband Yuriy Ropiy experienced heart attack-like symptoms during and after the city conducted a construction project near their home. Chicago has conducted more than 1,600 water main and sewer replacement projects since January 2009 in an attempt to upgrade its aging system.

“We trusted the city,” Blotkevic said. “It’s the kind of thing you just assume — that your tap water is safe to drink and that your city has done its due diligence to prevent a health hazard like toxic levels of lead. As soon as I found out that the city was allowing this to happen, our family stopped drinking the water from our taps. We had no idea that drinking the water in our own home was putting us at risk for lead poisoning.”

The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan has increased public scrutiny of the quality of drinking water across the US. The nation still has up to six million miles of lead piping, which would take billions of dollars to replace. Rather than conduct a widespread replacement of lead lines, water authorities have used various chemicals to coat the inside of pipes to ensure they do not leak lead into the water.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

The Latest

Cancer Cluster Controversy in Pennsylvania’s Gas Patch

State health dept needs to do a more thorough investigation of the environmental causes for rash of childhood cancer cases — including fracking.

Leann Leiter

Grounding Ourselves

On rethinking our views of green space and funeral options as we plan for the final disposition of our bodies.

Regina Sandler-Phillips

Bobcat Manor

Despite increasing hunting pressure, bobcats have proven themselves to be remarkably resilient in the face of human encroachment — and aren’t above raising their young in rural backyards.

Stephanie Stone Photographs by Karine Aigner

Song of the Seagrass

Seagrass, the ocean’s early warning system, may well be our secret weapon in the fight against climate change.

Attish Kanhai

Building Agricultural Neighborhoods in Detroit

Urban 'agrihood' addresses food insecurity, provides economic opportunity, and builds community in historic Michigan neighborhood.

Biba Adams

Oil Spill Continues to Decimate Brazilian Coast Two Months On

Volunteers come together to clean beaches as coastal communities, wildlife suffer amid ongoing crisis.

Tori Avila