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$1.7 Billion Headed To Illinois To Replace Lead Water Service Lines, But How Will It Be Distributed -- And Is It Really Enough?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A total of $1.7 billion is headed to Illinois to replace the network of lead pipes that have left many residents — Chicagoans in particular — drinking dangerous, lead-laced water.

The CBS 2 Investigators have been uncovering the problem as part of our "Getting Hosed" series on bad water bills.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Monday, the funding comes through the federal infrastructure bill - which includes nearly $16 billion to replace lead service lines across the country.

A good chunk of that money will be coming to Chicago, which has more lead pipes than any other U.S. city - a total of 387,095.

We introduced you to South Side resident Daniel Wasserman last month. His home gets its water from a lead service line.

When he shared the results of the lead level tests on his water, both readings over the federal legal limit of 15 parts per billion.

"My numbers were 24 on one drawing and 40 on another," Wasserman said.

It is also of note that the Environmental Protection Agency says no amount of lead is acceptable.

The lead service line that serves Wasserman's home is one of 387,096 lead service lines in the city of Chicago.

Illinois also has more lead service lines than any other state.

Now $1.7 billion is on its way - but how will it be doled out?

"There's no doubt that Black and brown communities will be targeted to receive the replacement," said Illinois state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago).

Ford – whose district stretches from the city's West Side through several western suburbs - noted that Black and brown communities often face the most severe levels of lead contamination.

The office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) broke down the destinations for the $1.7 billion. Over the next five years, $432 million will go toward Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which can be used for any drinking water infrastructure – including lead service lines.

Another $553 million will go specifically toward lead service line replacement.

All the funding will go through a State Revolving Fund operated by the State of Illinois.

But right now, it's still unclear exactly how the money will be prioritized beyond that. The math doesn't exactly add up.

"You know, I don't want to sound ungrateful," Ford said, "but when you talk about replacing all the lead pipes throughout the state of Illinois, $1.7 billion is just a drop in the bucket."

His says research shows it would take close to $14 billion to replace all the lead service lines in the state, and about $5.6 billion to replace all the lead pipes in the City of Chicago.

While the $1.7 billion coming is not as much money as many local lawmakers would have liked, Ford said the replacements that will take place will also lead to the creation of thousands of jobs here in Illinois.

We did reach out to the offices of Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot for more details on how different neighborhoods will be prioritized. Both offices were looking into it. We will keep following up.

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