12th Ward Chicago City Council candidate Pete DeMay sits outside his home in the McKinley Park neighborhood.

Chicago Needs a “Green New Deal” to Get Rid of Lead, Prioritize 12th Ward Residents

Published January 22, 2019

By Pete DeMay

As a parent of young children here in McKinley Park, I want to make sure that clean, safe drinking water flows to our community for the next generation and beyond. However, lead levels in Chicago tap water currently make this an impossibility, according to WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune. This brain-damaging lead in our water is due to the City of Chicago’s requirement that the metal be used for residential service lines: the pipes that bring water from the water main to your home. This practice lasted until 1986, decades after most municipalities abandoned it for obvious safety concerns.

So when construction or other disturbances like water meter installations or heavy equipment traffic shake lead particles loose from the pipes, they enter our drinking water, and readings spike to dangerous levels. Sadly, the city stuck with lead despite its known dangers due to well-documented political corruption, and we are all now left to deal with the mess.

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

Clearly something needs to be done, and the only real solution is to completely remove the lead service lines and replace them with copper pipe. Unfortunately, the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists that homeowners, not the city, bear the financial costs of service line replacement. But who can afford this? Repair can cost up to $15,000 per home, putting it out of reach for most Chicago residents.

Essentially, the city wants all of us to pay for its past corruption and choice to willfully jeopardize children’s health. Unfortunately, our incumbent 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas has been negligent: Although he is the chairman of the City Council Committee on Health and Environment, he did not call for hearings on lead in water until November 2018, well after this became a campaign issue in the 12th Ward, months after Chicago City Council’s Progressive Caucus first demanded hearings back in April and more than two years after publication of a September 2016 Chicago Tribune report on the dangers of lead service lines.

Fortunately, there is a better way forward to guarantee that we have clean Chicago tap water for our families. In 2019 a new mayor and a new city council can work to leverage federal EPA funds through the Illinois State Revolving Fund to get Chicago residents trained and working to replace lead service lines, and save middle- and low-income homeowners the burden of paying for this work themselves. Additional funding for the program could come from imposing a real estate transfer tax on properties valued at over $750,000, as proposed by Alderman Villegas in the 36th Ward, or a financial transaction tax on speculative investments.

Like the Roosevelt-era “New Deal,” this program would have the additional benefit of providing a real economic stimulus to neighborhoods like McKinley Park, where unemployment remains stubbornly high at 8.2 percent, over twice the national average of 3.9 percent, and where more than one in five residents live below the poverty line. Successful implementation of this environmentally focused “Green New Deal” would help demonstrate to the rest of the country and the world that we are no longer a city stymied by the great challenges of our day, paralyzed by the greed, incompetence and corruption of the past. We can instead show that we are, at our heart, a city that figures things out, gets things done and works for everyone. 

If elected alderman of the 12th Ward, I pledge to provide the leadership needed to solve the critical environmental problems facing our neighborhood and our city like lead in our water lines. Regardless of who wins the election on February 26, we as a community must continue the fight for clean air and water and a more sustainable city. There is simply too much at stake to sit on the sidelines. Finally, I invite you to check out our website at petedemay.com or follow us on Facebook if you are interested in learning more about our platform. Thank you!

The McKinley Park News publishes occasional opinions and editorials from neighborhood residents, officials, leaders and stakeholders. This op/ed is the first from candidates in the election to represent the 12th Ward in the Chicago City Council, who have been invited to submit an op/ed to the McKinley Park News prior to the upcoming election.

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