Friday, April 26, 2019

Garfield Ridge Civic League President Blasts Water Dept. Over Lead Poisoning

By Tim Hadac
Managing Editor
Southwest Chicago Post

The head of the Garfield Ridge Civic League has blasted City Hall, saying that its explanation of how its own actions appear to have caused elevated levels of lead in water in thousands of Chicago homes is nonsense.

“To me, that’s a bunch of hooey,” GRCL President Henry
Henry Pukala (left) listens to DWM engineers at the GRCL meeting.
Pukala said to two Chicago Department of Water engineers who spoke at the group’s April meeting.

Pukala said that the GRCL will contact local elected officials to demand more and better action to address what some call an environmental health scandal.

The GRCL may also reach out to other civic groups across the Southwest Side and rally them to action.

Citywide, more than 130,000 homes have voluntarily participated in the Department of Water Management’s MeterSave program since it was launched in 2009. Central to the program is installation of “smart meters” said to save homeowners money.

In recent months, the DWM’s own data has shown that as much as 20 percent of homes with smart meters have elevated levels of lead in their drinking water.

An investigation launched in 2016 appears to indicate that smart meter installation disrupts the protective orthophosphate coating in water pipes, meaning that lead seeps into drinking water. Just about every single-family home in Chicago built before 1986 has lead pipes running from the water main at the street to the home itself.

Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic. It accumulates in the body and causes brain damage and neurological disorders, especially in children. Federal health authorities have long stated that no level of lead is safe.

Alluding to the health and well-being of his teenage daughter, Pukala said he regrets allowing the city to install a smart meter at his home.

“I’m upset. I don’t know about everybody else in this room, but I’m upset,” he said, as some voiced their agreement with him. “They removed lead from paint in the 1980s…I don’t understand why they can’t keep lead out of our drinking water that we need to sustain life. This is not satisfactory for me…everybody is drinking water every day. Millions of people live in this city.”

Pukala added, “I don’t know why the city just doesn’t replace the service lines and be done with this problem,” Pukala said, as some of the 30 or so GRCL members in attendance nodded their heads in agreement. “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have agreed to have the city install a water meter at my house—unless they also replaced the lead service line at the same time.”

The DWM sanitary engineers, Jaylen Taylor and Nina Jones, downplayed the significance of the study. Jones said that the data is “preliminary and [the percentage of water-meter homes with elevated levels of lead] appears to be coming down a bit.”

Jones also said for those smart-meter homes that have experienced elevated levels of lead after installation, “Any increase should go away after a while of coating the new meter and everything (with orthophosphate, which the DWN adds to the municipal water supply).”

She did not say if she knows how long that would take.
Speaking to an audience of older adults, Taylor said, “The big thing with lead, lead has issues with developmental…studies show If you’re an adult, you’re done developing.”

After the meeting, a man who was in the audience said, “He can say that all he wants. But I have grandchildren in my house every weekend, drinking my tap water. And what if I decide to sell my home and downsize to a condo? Chances are, the prospective buyers of my home will be a couple with children or a couple planning to have children. If they find out there are high levels of lead in my drinking water—all because of what the Water Department did—and that lowers my property value and makes my house hard to sell, is the Water Department going to make up the difference?”

All 130,000 homes with smart meters may sign up to receive lead testing, as well as water pitchers and filters to help reduce lead in drinking water, according to a letter many Southwest Siders received earlier this year from DWM Commissioner Randy Conner.

“The people from the Water Department can do their best to put a happy face on this situation, but it looks to me like a scandal,” added Garfield Ridge resident David Santos. “If there’s no problem, why are people with water meters all of a sudden getting letters from the top guy at the Water Department? If nothing’s wrong, why are they offering to test for lead? If nothing’s wrong, why are they giving away water filters?

“It would be like if City Hall said, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the air,’ but then started handing out gas masks,” he concluded.

The next GRCL meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15 in the community room at TCF Bank, Archer and Austin. All Garfield Ridge residents are invited.

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