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Report on Chicago Water Contamination Largely Ignored By Media


November 2, 2022

By Alya Satchu

CHICAGO — On September 23, The Guardian published a report detailing extensive lead contamination in Chicago’s water system. Building on research from journalists at The Chicago Tribune, the report consisted of scientific analysis and evidence that showed the extent to which Chicago water supplies are polluted. The report stated that out of 24,000 tap water tests performed on Chicago properties, about 1,000 locations had pollution exceeding federal limits. However, the report was widely unreported by most media outlets. The story received extensive coverage from “The Real News Network,” a story from NPR, and a few local media sources. No mainstream outlets, such as The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, covered the report’s findings.

The report determined that pollution levels are far higher in poverty-stricken communities, and disproportionately affect children and families of color. According to the report, nine of the ten zip codes with the highest toxin levels had majority Black or Hispanic residents. One home in the predominantly Black community of South Chicago had toxin levels of 1,100 parts per billion (ppb). This surpasses the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 15 ppb. As revealed by the report, consumption of lead toxins can lead to medical issues such as seizures, hearing loss, learning disorders, and premature birth.

Chicago’s city and state officials have been aware of pollution issues for years, but minimal change has been made to address the problem. The report indicates that at Chicago’s current rate of replacement for polluted pipes, the job will be finished in 1,000 years. In April 2022, Mayor Lori Lightfoot assured the city that all 400,000 pipes will be replaced. As of September 2022, only 180 have been replaced, according to The Guardian.

Co-Deputy Director of Media Relations at Teens for Press Freedom, Julia Wysokinska, stated, “It’s important that news outlets report on stories such as this one, which impacts the health and safety of Chicago residents. Although local news sources and a few media outlets have reported on the issue, the reporting should not stop there. Mainstream outlets must do their part to highlight the direness of the situation in Chicago.”


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