Have you ever wondered about the safety of the drinking water in your building? During the course of operating a multi-family, residential building in Chicago as a property manager, you may be faced with the question of who is responsible for ensuring the water you and your residents drink is safe to drink and use for washing. The short answer is that it is your responsibility to make sure that your residents have clean, safe, contaminant-free drinking water at all times. In fact, it’s part of the Chicago Tenant Rights.

Chicago Tenant Rights to Clean Drinking Water

Under the Residential Landlords and Tenants sections, 13-196-420 and 5-12-110 of the Municipal Code of Chicago, landlords and property managers must provide safe, clean, running water, which includes both hot and cold water. The landlord must also maintain the plumbing system and remove any stagnant water from inside the building or on the grounds. Failure to provide these services could allow the Chicago tenant to take certain legal actions against the landlord up to and including terminating their lease early due to the safety hazard.

Common Water Contamination Hazards

Water contamination hazards generally fall into three broad categories, including radiological or radionuclides, biological and chemical. When it comes to the safety of your water, you, as a property manager, can control most of these factors by making sure your pipes are clean, sanitary, and free of corrosion. To understand what’s in your drinking water, you can always begin by reading the water report for Chicago.

  • Biological Contaminants – viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that are living in the water
  • Chemical Contaminants – fluoride, lead, copper, prescription, and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
  • Radionuclides or Radiological Contaminants – radon, uranium, and cesium, or other radioactive materials

Plumbing Pipe Water Contamination City Remediation Efforts

Most of the contaminants listed above are remedied when your municipal water treatment plant cleans and sanitizes the water, but the water is only as clean as the plumbing pipes in which it travels. If the plumbing pipes in your building are old and corroded, they may be leaching harmful chemicals into your potable water. If the cause of your contaminated water is due to the condition of your plumbing pipes or part of the system, like the backflow preventers, it is your responsibility to correct the issues and restore the water’s safety.

Common Contaminants Found in Residential Drinking Water

After the city treats the water, it may still pick up contaminants along its path. Common contaminants found in residential drinking water at the taps, which includes the sink faucets and showerheads, include:

1. Coliform

Coliform can contaminate drinking water if infected fecal matter leaches into the system. It is more prevalent in well water than city water. Coliform infection causes nausea and severe diarrhea. Those with weaned immune systems and children are most susceptible.

2. Copper

Copper is a heavy metal that can leach into drinking water from copper plumbing pipes and natural sources. The good news is that the amounts of copper in surface water, including well water, tend to be very low. The main source of excessive copper contamination tends to be from corroded copper pipes. Therefore, it’s very important to ensure that your plumbing pipes are in good condition.

3. E. Coli

E. Coli is another bacteria that enters the water supply via contaminated human or animal fecal matter. It can also enter the system during floods or if the wastewater or stormwater treatment systems backup and overflow. E. Coli can cause diarrhea and upset stomach. If it gets into the skin or eyes, it can cause an infection.

4. Lead

Lead is an extremely toxic heavy metal. While lead plumbing pipes are no longer used, there is evidence to suggest that the old pipes may still be connected to city water systems. Lead solder was also used to join copper pipes until the mid-1980s. In fact, in 1986, lead used in solder was banned, and the usage was stopped in 1987.

5. Legionellosis

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionellosis bacteria. If inhaled, it can cause a bad case of pneumonia. It is typically found in stagnant warm water, like hot tubs, HVAC chillers, and indoor water features that are improperly cleaned and sanitized. The bad news is that Legionnaires’ disease may be on the rise as buildings that have not been used in months, due to the pandemic, are reopening. This is because the water in the plumbing pipes, water features, and water-using appliances has been sitting and growing bacteria. If these pipes are not properly cleaned and disinfected prior to the building reopening, Legionellosis could be in the water.

6. Rust

Rust occurs when air and water interact with iron. The process is called oxidation. When it comes to plumbing pipes, iron pipes are the most likely to rust. Although, any pipe containing iron may rust. When a pipe has rusted, the water flowing from the tap appears reddish-brown. It can taste and smell awful, but it is not a major health concern. However, if you notice discolored water in your building, it’s important to have the water tested and any corroded or rusted pipes replaced or lined with epoxy.

7. Coronavirus

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a new drinking water concern – Coronavirus in the water systems. The bad news is that COVID has been found in wastewater. Although, it’s unknown if the wastewater COVID can cause infection. If you are concerned about COVID in your building’s wastewater, you can have it tested. For potable water, it is believed that any coronavirus that makes it into the system is destroyed with the chemicals used to clean the water at the treatment plant. If you are concerned about pathogens and heavy metals in your drinking water, the CDC has released guidelines for reopening buildings that have been shut down or partially shut down for weeks and months due to the ongoing pandemic.

Ensuring the Safety of Your Resident’s Drinking Water

The first step to ensuring the safety of the potable water in your building is getting it tested. Testing your water will tell you if you have high levels of any heavy metals, certain bacteria, like legionellosis and coliform, and pipe corrosion. If the tests find any contaminants in your drinking water, you will want to check the city of Chicago′s most recent water testing results and compare the results of your tests to the city′s results. If your numbers are worse, then your plumbing pipes may be to blame, and you should consider scheduling a building pipe assessment to determine the corrosion levels within your pipes.

Protecting Your Pipes Against Corrosion and Your Water from Heavy Metals

The number one destroyer of pipes is corrosion, which is caused by the water flowing through your metal pipes. As the water moves through your pipes, its chemical composition slowly eats away at the pipes, causing pinhole leaks and eventually the failure of your pipes and fittings.

One way to prevent pipe corrosion is to line your pipes with epoxy. Epoxy coatings and pipe liners prevent water from reaching the metal of your plumbing pipes by completely coating and sealing the inside of your potable water pipes. Once the pipe liner is in place, you can feel confident that your Chicago tenants are receiving clean water, and you are extending the useful lives of your existing plumbing pipes.

To learn more about how a pipe liner or pipe coating can improve the quality of your drinking water and extend the useful life of your plumbing system, call us at 815-790-9000. We’d be happy to talk to you about the safety of your drinking water and how to improve the longevity of your plumbing pipes.