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CPS Says It Will 'Spend Whatever It Takes' To Keep Kids From Drinking Lead

By Evan F. Moore | June 21, 2016 11:30am
 CPS officials called the lead testing
CPS officials called the lead testing "uncharted territory."
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DNAinfo/Evan F. Moore

WEST RIDGE — The head of the Chicago Public Schools vowed to "spend whatever it takes" to fix the lead-tainted water problem discovered in an increasing number of city schools.

The number of schools with tainted water continues to swell as lead tests come back. At a public meeting Monday night for parents worried that their kids are drinking lead, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he was committed to fixing it as soon as possible.

"Cost is not an issue and we will spend whatever it takes to remove any devices or any piping that might pose a lead hazard," Claypool said. "Whatever it is, how much it costs, we will make sure our children are safe."

He was among a group of top officials trying to reassure parents during the meeting at Mather High School on Monday.

 Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health
Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health
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DNAinfo/Evan F. Moore

He was joined by Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, Gary Litherland, director of public affairs for the city Department of Water Management, and Jason Kierna, the CPS chief of facilities.

As of Sunday, the faucets or drinking fountains at 26 CPS schools have tested positive for elevated levels of lead, according to CPS officials.

"We decided to test the 324 schools that were constructed in 1986 before lead pipes were banned and school that have young children," Claypool said. "The testing should be done by the end of the school year."

Claypool told the crowd assembled that 30 percent of the fixtures showed at least one sample that was above the Environmental Protection Agency's standard.

"We have taken out or decommissioned sinks and water fountains. We are working with the water department to remediate any hazard we find," Claypool said. "It is important to know that we can protect your child from any hazards."

Kierna gave an overview of the lead testing process. 

"The safety of the students is our primary concern," Kierna said. "We're making sure you have to the information you deserve."

According to CPS officials, of the 529 CPS schools, 324 of the schools will be tested by Tuesday, which is the end of the school year. As of Friday, 282 of 324 CPS have been tested, Kierna said.

Concerned citizens, parents of public school students, along with West Ridge residents asked the panel questions about the process of the testing, the timing and the juxtaposition of lead testing and the Flint, Mich., water crisis.

Eric Thor, a West Ridge resident, attended the hearing. He was concerned about lead in the schools because he has an older home. 

"I'm encouraged by the actual numbers. I don't think we should accept lead, but at least the numbers aren't as bad as we originally thought," Thor said. "It's not just schools. I live in a house with old paint and old pipes. I'm concerned about it." 

Sonia Alvarez also attended the hearing. She said that she liked what she heard from CPS and city officials.

'We need make sure this taken care of. I feel much better," Alvarez said. "It's good that they caught it so it can be monitored."

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