May 16, 2018

Chicago Park District Closes Fountains Over Lead Contamination Concerns

The district plans to close nearly half of all outdoor drinking fountains due to rising lead contamination concerns

Chicago Park District closes fountains amid rising lead contamination concerns
Chicago Park District closes fountains amid rising lead contamination concerns

The Chicago Park District announced plans to shut off nearly half of all outdoor drinking water fountains amid rising lead contamination concerns. Over the summer, the district plans to shut off or remove approximately half of the 1,250 outdoor fountains, according to Dan Cooper, director of environmental services for the Chicago Park District.

The park district will keep in operation drinking fountains in high-traffic areas, but if lead contamination is detected they will either keep the fountains running continuously to keep the water clear or remove the fountains entirely. According to The Chicago Tribune, about 750 of the 1,250 founds will either be under continuous flow or shut off and removed. 

“If it has to run continuous for us to be confident it’s actually going to run clear, and it’s a low-traffic area, we’ll leave it off and look to remove it,” Cooper said. “That means it’s probably around half that will not be running this year outdoors.”

The decision comes in light of a recent Tribune analysis which found that nearly 70% of 2,797 homes across Chicago over the past two years found lead contamination in drinking water and out of these samples, three out of every 10 homes had lead concentrations above 5 ppb, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s bottled water standard for lead contamination. Chicago continued to incorporate lead service lines until Congress banned the practice in 1986, therefore, many homes and businesses still receive their water through a lead distribution system.

“I don’t want to waste anything either, but it’s a lower priority, especially when you’re talking about lead and kids,” Copper said of the continuous flowing fountains and the potential effect of lead contamination on children. 

Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, applauded the district’s decision in an interview with WBEZ-FM.

“Closing down those water fountains as an interim step is a good one,” Mogerman said. “The larger points of water efficiency and access are really important, and need to be addressed, but in the short term, let’s make sure we are not giving kids brain poison.”