The Chicago Park District has released lead results from indoor water fountains at nearly 200 parks. About five percent of parks whose results have been posted so far have at least one fountain with lead that exceeds federal action levels.
This action level is 15 parts per billion, and when municipalities find that more than 10 percent of their samples exceed that number, they must take remediative action. Levels under 15 ppb, however, are not considered safe. No level of lead is safe, according to federal health authorities.
Affected fountains include those in Dawes, Eugene Field, Humboldt, Jackson, Kenicott, Marquette, Murray, Norwood, Revere and Washtenaw Park district buildings, according to district data. District officials say they have turned off affected fountains and are working on lead remediation. One indoor drinking fountain at Mount Greenwood Park has already been fixed and now shows much lower levels of lead in tests.
The park fountain tests have been going on through the summer as an estimated 40,000 Chicago youths were attending district day camps that ended earlier this month. It’s part of ongoing national concern about lead in drinking water, especially at institutions that serve young children, the group most susceptible to lead’s developmentally damaging effects. Last spring, Chicago Public Schools also launched a testing program in the district. So far, CPS tests have found high lead levels in the water of one-third of schools tested.
The Park District says it plans to test all indoor and outdoor fountains across the city with complete results posted by “early fall.” So far the district has released results from 190 parks but only from indoor fountains. Officials are not saying when they will start releasing results for outdoor fountains, which will be shut down in November.
Meanwhile, independent tests of outdoor fountains by ABC-7 News and a group of Chicago advertising interns have turned up troubling results.
Summer interns at the Cramer-Krasselt advertising agency in Chicago launched a project to test public fountains in recent months. They say they found high lead levels in several park district fountains around the city. Their “Follow the Lead” report did not list the names of the parks with affected fountains but the report’s map indicates they were located in River, Touhy Herbert, Hamlin, Austin Town Hall, Archer and Touhy Parks as well as on the lakefront path at Berwyn Avenue and Sheridan Road.
The interns said Park officials showed interest in their data, but Park officials would not say whether or not they have acted on the “Follow the Lead” results.
The district, however, did act on the results of ABC-7 tests, which showed high levels of lead in fountains near Montrose Beach and the elephant house in Lincoln Park Zoo. Follow-up tests at those locations by the District found exponentially higher lead levels than ABC-7’s initial readings.
WBEZ started looking at Park District water in response to a question from Curious City listener Svitlana Popyk, who asked “Where can I get lead stats on Chicago lake path drinking water fountains?”
She says that she would have hoped to have more information by this time and has spent the summer taking her chances at lakefront fountains. “But I definitely reduced the amount I drink during my runs and I let the fountain run a bit longer before I take a sip. But, if I'm just out walking, I always brought my own water.”
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at email@example.com.