Illinois Passes Landmark Legislation to Replace Lead Pipes

Chicago Department of Water Management crews install water main pipe. Under the new law, water systems will be required to replace the full lead service line at the time of water main replacement.

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

After years of advocacy led by a diverse group of community stakeholders, the Illinois legislature passed the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act—a bill mandating the replacement of all lead services lines in the state.

The passage of this bill catapults Illinois to the forefront of states taking meaningful action to tackle the problem of lead in drinking water. Illinois joins the neighboring state of Michigan, which revised its state Lead & Copper Rule in 2018, as one of only two states in the country mandating full lead service line replacement. The bill, which is set to be signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker, contains the following key components:

  • Mandates full lead service line replacement by all water systems within a required timeframe based on the number of lead service lines in their system;
  • Bans partial lead service line replacement: the dangerous practice of removing only the section from the water main to the property line. This causes disruption to the remaining portion of the service line and can result in significantly increased levels of lead contamination in drinking water.
  • Requires water systems to submit an initial service line materials inventory to the state by April 15, 2023 and a final complete inventory by April 15, 2024;
  • Requires water systems to submit an initial lead service line replacement plan to the state by April 15, 2024 and an updated plan every April 15th for review by the state until a final comprehensive plan is submitted by April 15, 2027;
  • Creates the Lead Service Line Replacement Fund which is dedicated exclusively to fund water systems’ work of identifying and replacing lead service lines;
  • Water systems will be required to identify and replace lead service lines during the process of water main replacements beginning January 1, 2022;
  • Creates the Lead Service Line Replacement Advisory Board: a multi-sector stakeholder body that will advise the state on best practices in lead service line replacement and implementation and integration of the state’s lead service line replacement goals;
  • Establishes a statewide low-income water assistance policy and program that all low-income Illinois residents will be eligible to apply to for monetary assistance to help ensure access to water.

As the state with the most lead service lines in the country, estimated between 700,000 and 1.4 million, the public health threat posed by this outdated lead drinking water infrastructure in Illinois is greater than those faced by any other state in the U.S. And with such a high number of lead service lines throughout the state, essentially every Illinoisan is at risk of exposure to lead-contaminated drinking water. Yet, the data shows that Black and Latinx Illinoisans are twice as likely to live in communities with lead service lines than white residents, making the need to tackle this environmental injustice even more urgent for the most historically-marginalized and vulnerable populations.

However, community advocates and sponsors in the Illinois legislature saw this threat as a significant opportunity for Illinois to be a national leader on fixing this toxic infrastructure problem. And that leadership now begins by starting the long-overdue process of getting these lead pipes out of the ground and putting them where they belong: in the history books.