Lead On: A city resolution

Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava

Evanston City Council passes a resolution to mandate representative water testing.

HEENA SRIVASTAVA: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Heena Srivastava.

KALEN LUCIANO: And I’m Kalen Luciano. This is Lead On.

THOMAS SUFFREDIN: Our next item that was pulled was item A10, I think that was yours Robin, right?

ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: Yes, staff recommends City Council adopt the resolution 11-R-21 to approve the representative testing of samples for lead and copper in all nine wards. I move approval.



HEENA SRIVASTAVA: Evanston City Council voted Monday night, January 25, to pass a resolution mandating representative water testing. This means that Evanston will now be required to collect at least three water samples to test for lead and copper from each of the city’s nine wards. 5th Ward Ald. Robin Rue Simmons spearheaded this effort.

ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: I just wanted to pull this one off and really just highlight the great work of our community and thank the community for paying such close attention. And I want to call out Ms. Regina Sant’Anna, 2nd Ward resident, Ms. Janet Alexander Davis and everyone at the Environmental Justice team. As well as Kalen Luciano and Heena (Srivastava) from The Daily Northwestern.

KALEN LUCIANO: The city is required by the federal Lead and Copper Rule, or LCR, to routinely report the lead levels in its water to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. But our investigation found that out of the 180 water samples the city has collected over the past two decades, only two came from Evanston’s historically Black 5th Ward.

HEENA SRIVASTAVA: To help fix this issue, water chemist Eleanore Meade tested the 5th Ward six times in 2020. She expanded the sampling pool from 30 to 40 in order to accommodate for underrepresented wards. Now, the new resolution will also allow the city to expand its sampling pool if it is not representative.

ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: All nine wards are being tested. This way it’s really institutionalized, and we can hold all leadership accountable. So I’m asking support for this. Our water is safe, so that was the great outcome. It tastes delicious, and it nourishes my family. I hope it is nourishing your family as well and you are not spending money on bottled water, because we have the most incredible supply of natural water right here in Evanston, Illinois.

THOMAS SUFFREDIN: Any further discussion? If not, why don’t we go ahead and take a vote.

ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: Of course we can’t overlook the oversight, but I’m satisfied to know that we have legislation in place. I’m just proud of the outcome. It also is good to know that residents in lower income households that otherwise would not have the information or access to their water quality will now be included in a city-wide process to monitor water quality.

KALEN LUCIANO: 2nd Ward resident Regina Sant’Anna and 5th Ward resident Janet Alexander Davis advocated to get the resolution passed.

REGINA SANT’ANNA: This is part of everything that we do I think as a community with that lens of reparations. Right? Repairing the harm that has been done in the past by creating systems that can really fix that going forward so that we cannot return to that.

JANET ALEXANDER DAVIS: You know how something can be described like it is a perfect storm? It’s a perfect coming together of so many aspects of a community. So, this was just fantastic. I just felt like for us to know what happened in Flint, Michigan, I didn’t want that to happen here in Evanston. So thank you all levels it took to make this happen.

ROBIN RUE SIMMONS: With the information I had from the report, the advocacy that I had from the community leaders, Janet Alexander Davis and Regina, all I had to do really at that point was give staff the rec(ommendation). And I did not really have any pushback. I was able to get the support of our City Council, and it passed.

JANET ALEXANDER DAVIS: Alright everybody have a good one.

HEENA SRIVASTAVA: Alright, you all as well.

JANET ALEXANDER DAVIS: Okay, what a blessing, oh, thank you.

HEENA SRIVASTAVA: Here’s what else has happened: The EPA finalized its revisions to the LCR on December 22, 2020. It now requires communities to make a public lead service line inventory and encourages lead service line replacement, among other changes. None of the revisions, however, mandate representative sampling.

KALEN LUCIANO: On the state level, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus introduced a bill that would create a plan to replace all lead service lines in the state. However, it didn’t pass before the end of the lame-duck session and will need to be reintroduced.

HEENA SRIVASTAVA: If you want to know more about how Evanston reached its resolution in the first place, make sure to listen to our previous episodes of Lead On, where we investigate Evanston’s historically biased lead testing practices.

KALEN LUCIANO: Thanks for listening. This episode was reported and produced by Heena Srivastava and myself, Kalen Luciano. The audio editor of The Daily is Alex Chun. The digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis. The editor in chief is Sneha Dey.

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Twitter: @kalenluciano and @HeenaSriv

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