From gasoline and cosmetics, to paint and plumbing, when it came to the impact on human health, for decades Chicago literally buried the lead.
Yet, the city has decreased lead poisoning from 25% in the 1990s to 2% today among children who are tested, according to Lead Safe Chicago.
The pandemic, however, may have caused a resurgence in lead poisoning because children spent more time at home, says K. Sarah Hoehn, MD, chief medical officer at La Rabida Children’s Hospital.
Adults are at risk, as well. High lead levels in adults contribute to high blood pressure, kidney issues, and poor birth outcomes.
Still, Hoehen says, “In general, it’s the little ones putting so many things in their mouths.” Untreated high lead levels put children at risk for cognitive issues. Lead sources in Chicago include legacy lead dust in soil and paint, as well as lead water pipes.
Hoehn says parents with children under age 4 should request lead testing from their pediatrician, even in the absence of symptoms. Children who are prone to eating non-food items should also be tested annually.
Local lead abatement resources:
Chicago Department of Water Management’s Service Line Inventory: Launched in 2023, this website helps residents identify whether their home has lead service lines.
Water lead test kit: Chicago residents can request a free water test kit via 311. Once the kit arrives, follow the instructions, schedule a pick-up of the completed test, and wait for your results.
Equity Lead Service Line Replacement (E-LSLR) Program: Retrofits Chicago homes for those who meet income requirements, replacing lead service lines with copper.
Chicago Department of Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program: Facilitates inspections and enforcement, offers assistance for low-income families, and provides case management for children with elevated lead levels.
Illinois Lead Program: Resources include testing, educational training, and lead abatement licensing.
Illinois Department of Public Health: List of licensed lead abatement contractors and lead risk assessors and inspectors.