Chicago Starts Testing For Lead In Some Public Schools | WBEZ
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Chicago Starts Testing For Lead In Some Public Schools

City officials say they’ve started testing the water in select Chicago Public Schools for lead. It comes after weeks of inquiries by WBEZ and other media. 

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says the district chose the 28 pilot schools “based on the age of the pipes, based on the presence of young children and kitchens on the premises.”

Health officials warn that lead exposure can harm the cognitive development of children. Chicago was one of the last cities to stop installing lead water service lines when they were banned by federal regulations in 1986. 

The pilot schools are located throughout the city, and include Burr, Canty, Coonley, Crown, De Diego, Dett, Ericson, Evers, Hefferan, Mahalia Jackson, Jamieson, Jungman, Kellman, Kozminski, Lenart, Mays, Neil, Nicholson, Parker, Pritzker, Saucedo/Telpochcalli, South Shore ES, Stagg, Sumner, Tanner, Harold Washington ES, Webster and Westcott, according to CPS. 

Detroit recently found elevated lead levels in the water of one third of the schools it checked.

But Claypool said here in Chicago, “we have no indication that there is any risk. We are doing this out of an abundance of caution and nothing else.”

New York, Newark and Los Angeles school districts have also checked and found elevated lead levels in schools’ water. New York recently launched a website that allows consumers to monitor lead tests by school, and last year Los Angeles designated nearly $20 million for lead remediation in its water fountains. 

Claypool noted that there are no federal rules that require school districts to check water in schools for lead and that the district is doing it ahead of possible future regulations. 

Officials say they expect to have test results by mid-May. If elevated lead levels are found in the school’s water, the district says it will notify parents and provide bottled water for the school until the problem can be addressed.

Still, experts say that, even before conclusive testing and remediation can be done, schools can help reduce potential lead levels by flushing school pipes for five minutes in the morning. When asked if CPS would start asking the janitorial staff to do this, Claypool said, “I think we need to do the pilot first...we will quickly learn if anything needs to be done along those lines. Hopefully nothing will need to be done.” 

Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at

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