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2 Investigators: Cost Of Replacing Lead Service Lines Is On Chicago Home Owners

(CBS) -- 2 Investigator Pam Zekman first revealed months ago that some older Chicago homes have water with elevated lead levels.

Now, the 2 Investigators report that fixing the problem will cost homeowners thousands of dollars.

When Gordon Berry's 2-year old grand-daughter Hoshi asks for a drink of water it gives the family pause, because their drinking water may not be safe.

"We found out that the water has a lot of lead in it, and the reason we found out is our 2-year old granddaughter had high lead levels in her blood," Berry says.

The Berrys installed a filter on their kitchen sink but believe the source of the lead is aging lead service lines for their 127-year old house. Part of that service line goes beyond the property line and under the city-owned sidewalk and street to the water main.

As many as 300,000 of Chicago's older homes may have lead water service lines, but the city won't help pay to fix them.

Lead Service Line
This illustration shows how lead service lines from private homes connect with city water mains. (CBS)

"They're not willing to pay anything towards replacing the whole service line from the center of the street," Berry says.

Plumber's estimates to replace the old lead lines at the Berry home run from $15,000 to $18,000. That is in addition to $3,500 for city permits to perform the work.

"They built that water line, and if they want to replace it, it's on them to replace it," City Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy says.

Berry, the home owner, counters: "I was not even alive when the lines were put in."

Chicago has the most homes with lead service lines in the nation. They are in homes built prior to 1986 and city officials estimate there may be as many as 300,000. The city declined to estimate the cost of replacing them. Based on the Berry's estimates it could be as much as $4.5 billion.

"Some cities have taken the bull by the horns and solved the problem and put money to help the homeowners in the city," Berry says. "Chicago isn't willing to do that."

Indeed, other cities with lead service lines offer homeowners financial assistance to replace the lines. Denver, Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.  all have plans or proposals in place to help defray the cost of replacement.

"Here is a case where innocent children are being fed poisonous water, which means that they're going to grow up with real emotional and cognitive defects, and the city isn't going to take any responsibility? That makes me really angry," Mary Hynes Berry says.

Because they caught it early, the Berrys' granddaughter is now fine and has no lead in her system.

The city says the water from water mains is lead-free and they add a chemical to help coat any lead service lines. They insist the water supply is safe.

If you're wondering if you have lead service lines, most home built before 1986 probably have them. The cost of replacing lead service lines will vary, based on the length to the water main.

You can have your water tested for free by calling 3-1-1 to get a water quality test kit sent to your home.

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