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Lead pipes in Silvis will soon be a thing of the past

Western Illinois University students are going door-to-door in Silvis this week to identify what households need to have lead service pipes removed.

SILVIS, Ill. — Silvis is beginning some of the first steps to remove all its lead water pipes.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is mandating that all cities in the state replace the lead service pipes. Those are the pipes running from the water main in the middle of the street to each individual house.

Congress banned lead service line use in 1986 after lead was found to be leaking into the water and causing illness. However, most of the lines installed before then have never been replaced. In Illinois, more than 667,000 lead water pipes are estimated to still be in use.

"We put polyphosphate into the water, which kind of coats the pipe so it's protected," said Silvis Public Works Director Joe Rockwell. "It's not necessarily bad right now because it is protected, but we do need to get the lead services out since there's potential for some harmful things to happen."

Rockwell estimated 500 to 600 of the roughly 2,300 service line hookups in Silvis are lead.

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During the week of July 11, a group of Western Illinois University students is going door-to-door to identify all the lead pipes. The students are tasked with identifying what material the pipe is and then taking a picture of it for the city's database.

Rockwell said the database will need to be completed and given to the EPA by 2024.

"Lead is a lot more malleable," said rising WIU second-year student Marcus Baptiste. "We scratch the pipe and lead will flake off."

Once the inventory is complete, Rockwell said the EPA will let Silvis know how much time it has to replace the pipes.

"We're thankful that we have a state project that's going to go on out here on 1st Avenue, so hopefully, we'll get a lot of those done on 1st Avenue with that project," he said. "It's probably going to be six, seven phases."

Silvis is taking notes from Galesburg since the city has been working for five years to replace its 3,500 lead service lines after EPA scrutiny in 2015 for childhood lead poisoning levels. Galesburg will begin replacing the estimated 400 remaining lead service lines in August.

Silvis is still trying to figure out what funding will look like for the project, Rockwell said. It's looking into grants and loans from the EPA for the replacements. He estimates, depending on where a home is located, it could cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

If residents have questions about the project, they should reach out to Joe Rockwell or Nevada Lemke at Silvis City Hall, 309-792-9181.

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