WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Galesburg Replacing Private Lead Water Lines

Jun 30, 2017

The city of Galesburg is set to begin replacing lead water service lines at about 400 homes. The pipes which connect private residences to the city's water supply have been blamed for contaminating the drinking water in the past.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency gave the city a nearly $2 million forgivable loan to go toward service line replacement -- at no cost to homeowners. Galesburg city leaders chose the first round of homes based off of which ones had previously failed to meet EPA water quality testing standards or in the past had housed children who had elevated lead levels in their blood.

Knox County Health Department Administrator Michele Gabriel said lead exposure can affect a child’s development. She said testing shows that about 14% of children in Knox County recorded elevated lead levels in their their blood stream.

The most common way children encounter lead is through lead paint in older homes, but Gabriel said replacing lead water service lines can help.

“They can feel a little safer and secure knowing that it isn’t a lead service line coming into their home anymore and bringing that hazard in,” Gabriel said. “I think, just a lot of peace of mind for the community knowing that we are doing something.”

Wayne Carl, Public Works Director, said the lead pipes will be replaced with plastic ones that will hold up well for many years. He said it only takes 2-4 hours for the construction crew to switch out the pipes.

Then, a plumber goes inside the house and connects the new line, and flushes the water. The city does a new test for lead, although it can take a few days to get the results.

He said line replacement will continue into the fall.  He said the Illinois EPA has committed to then give the city another $2 million forgivable loan, which would cover 400-500 more homes.

In all, there are nearly 3,000 private lead water service lines in Galesburg. Carl said the city hopes to continue securing money to replace the lead lines. 

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the first round of lead service line replacements. She applauded city leaders for the work they have done during the past year after the EPA once again found higher than allowed lead levels in the drinking water at some residences.  

“This is a community that has come together to address a problem,” Bustos said. “There is not one community that we have in the congressional district that I serve that doesn’t have some kind of issue. I think Galesburg and the city leaders ought to be commended for coming together and working with my office and the state of Illinois to address the problem. We ought to look at this as a community that is addressing the issues that it is facing.”

Galesburg has received some regional and national attention over the issue. Mayor John Pritchard noted  that about 23% of the water lines in Galesburg are lead. Comparatively, he said, in Chicago, 80% of water lines are lead.