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Bloomington officials say lead levels in water are well below enforcement levels

A cup of water is drawn from a faucet. A person's hand is seen holding the cup.
Rogelio V. Solis
AP file
“Even if you have a lead line, that doesn't mean you've got lead in your drinking water,” said Bloomington City Manager Jeff Jurgens.

Letters sent to Bloomington residents alerting of lead water service line replacements last week had some residents worried there was lead in their drinking water — which poses a known health risk.

At a Bloomington City Council meeting Monday night, City Manager Jeff Jurgens cleared the air.

“Even if you have a lead line, that doesn't mean you've got lead in your drinking water,” he explained.

The letters were sent as a legal formality to inform residents of the service line replacement, which will be ongoing for the next several years. Jurgens said the service line replacement itself is a legal issue as well.

“There’s not a need to panic, but by law, we’ve got to remove these lead lines,” he said.

Recent water level tests show Bloomington is “well under” the safe level of lead in the water, Jurgens added.

“With our latest report, they were finding 1.3 parts per billion of lead,” he said. “The actual limit is 15 parts per billion.”

The Environmental Protection Agency calls for mitigation effortswhen lead exceeds 15 parts per billion in at least 10% of tap water samples taken, but the agency also makes clear that "the best available science... shows there is no safe level of exposure to lead."

Lead can cause a wide range of health problems, especially in children. They are at risk of behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth and hyperactivity among other concerns. Adults could face greater likelihood of high blood pressure, reduced kidney function and reproductive problems.

In total, Bloomington has around 12,000 known lead service lines or unknown lines, which will cost the city just over $100 million to replace. Water rates already increased in May by 33% to help fund the project starting in 2027, when the customer-owned portion of lead service lines are scheduled to start being replaced. (There is a city program to assist low-income residents with affording the increase.)

In May 2025, there will be another 33% increase.

Jurgens said lead service lines owned by the city will start being replaced as early as next month.

A water tower project that was projected to cost $10 million is only going to cost around $7.5 million. Since the city already saved the money, it will use the remainder to start lead service line replacement at Market Street next month, Jurgens said.

More information about the ongoing service line replacement is available on the city’s website, along with a map of where the lines are located.

Corrected: May 22, 2024 at 2:30 PM CDT
WGLT clarified Bloomington's lead levels in water fall below enforcement levels, though no lead level is safe. It also clarifies the number of lead water service lines in Bloomington.
Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.