chicago

A Christmas Miracle: Our Water Isn’t Full of That Much Lead

About 5 months ago, I tested our apartment’s water for lead and then patiently waited for the results.

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I definitely did not expect it to be a quick turnaround, but I was curious as to when I might hear back, so I called 311, Chicago’s information line. They let me know that I shouldn’t hear any official results from the Chicago Department of Water Management unless our lead levels were above the limit.

And I didn’t hear anything.

That is until Saturday when I saw a letter from the Department in our mailbox. Naturally, I freaked out since I was told I wouldn’t hear from them unless it was bad news. I quickly ripped open the envelope and pulled out a letter providing our lead results.

They ended up being under the U.S. EPA’s action level for lead, which is 15 μg/L or parts per billion.

Our first draw, done after our water had not been used for over 6 hours, was recorded at 3.3 μg/L. The second was taken 3 minutes afterward and recorded at 10.0 μg/L, and the third at 5 minutes recorded 5.0 μg/L.

I found the last two draws odd since what makes the most sense is for your initial draw to be the highest and your sequential draws be lower given that the water has been flushing through the pipes. No idea.

Besides that, the rest of the letter just explains where Chicago’s water comes from, that it doesn’t leave the water treatment plants with any detectable lead in it, the health effects of lead, common lead sources, and steps to reduce lead exposure.

While I was waiting for my results, I had reached out to my landlord to find out if he knew if our services lines had been replaced semi-recently. He knew the previous owner did a gut rehab of our building, but could not be for sure if our lines were replaced.

So we aren’t totally poisoning ourselves everytime we drink from the tap, but I am still slightly concerned. My next step now is to look into a filter specifically for lead using Environmental Working Group’s Tapwater Database.

Does anyone have any suggestions of water filters they have tried? Let me know!

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I Finally Asked

I have been at my current job for almost a year and a half and work in a large office building in downtown Chicago.

Since then, I have always wondered why my office had compostable plates, bowls, and cups, but nowhere to compost them.

I never used those things while at work. I have my own cup and plate that I reuse, but there are PLENTY of people that use those compostable materials and I don’t doubt that they think its fine because they are compostable.

But they aren’t.

Because they are being tossed into the trash can.

Which goes to the landfill.

Where nothing decomposes.

I had originally tried to work up the courage to shake up the wasteful office culture like 11 months ago and unfortunately never followed through.

Now many months later, I finally worked up the courage to ask the facilities department why they provided these materials to their employees, but not the proper way to dispose of them. I also offered to provide any assistance in picking a composting service. After reviewing my email a million times, I took a deep breath and clicked send.

Later that day, I ran into our facilities manager in the hallway and he excitedly told me how glad he was that I had emailed him. Apparently, the original plan was for the office to get the compostable materials and then set up composting, but it fell to the wayside. There wasn’t someone to champion it! Hey, hey, that’s me! I told him I have used two different composting services in Chicago and he urged me to send over their details and contact information. I expertly pulled together the resources and sent them over.

So the ball is rolling! And I am proud of myself for finally doing it.

I plan to follow up soon to see if the contact ever occurred. I will keep you updated!

 

 

Batteries Can Be Tossed

I often get asked what to do with stuff.

What do I do with plastic bags since they can’t go in the recycling blue bin? Where do I take pillows? And sheets and towels? Textiles that can’t be used? Salvation Army or Goodwill?

Recently my dad asked me if he has to recycle alkaline batteries, and not long afterward, a friend texted me the very same question.

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Back in the day, your regular TV remote battery couldn’t be put into the municipal trash because they contained harmful mercury that could leach into waterways. Nowadays, batteries do not contain mercury, which is good.

In Chicago, alkaline batteries are accepted in the garbage cart, while rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste due to nickel cadmium and must be recycled accordingly.

These batteries can now safely go in the trash/landfill, which isn’t necessarily that great.

Yes, they can be thrown out (like a lot of things), but you can also go one extra step and find a place that recycles them. You can look up where to recycle your batteries here, and for the most part, it is going to depend on where you live and what your town or city collects.

So check it out and do something with that pile of dead batteries in your junk drawer.

Resources:

Kayak for Conservation in the Chicago River

Months ago, I signed up to be a citizen scientist with the Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program, and on Saturday, I finally got to be one!

We met near Chicago’s Goose Island for a quick discussion about paddling and what we would be looking out for.

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Before I knew it, myself and about 10 other citizen scientists, slid into the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River with a representative from the Shedd and one from Urban Rivers. 

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We visited Shedd’s River Island and Urban River’s floating islands to do some wildlife monitoring. We jotted down the date, temperature, and weather conditions and were then each assigned wildlife to look out for along the vegetation.

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I had the chance to monitor pollinators, which meant we sat for 2 minutes and counted the number of pollinators that flew by. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a breezy day so many of the pollinators were hunkered down.

Other volunteers checked fish traps and counted turtles – which we saw 4 of!

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This data will help scientist learn more about restoring the ecology of the Chicago River and other urban rivers. Shedd’s River Island is only a few months old, while Urban River’s island was installed last year (remember, I helped put them together!), providing a great opportunity to compare their productivity over time.

Even though Shedd’s River Island is relatively young, the vegetation was growing nice and tall due to all the nutrients the plants pull from the river.

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It was an amazing opportunity to get to see the very islands I helped plant become fruitful homes to river wildlife. It also was my first time kayaking on the river and admittedly it was actually really nice.

Sure, there was a bunch of trash mingling along the sides of the seawall, but there were birds flying overhead, bugs buzzing, and turtles sunbathing.

It felt like progress to me.

Testing Our Water for Lead

If you live in an old building in Chicago have you ever wondered if your water service lines are made of lead?

Good news is that you can test it for free with a water quality test kit from the Chicago Department of Water Management.

I requested my free kit about 2 months ago and it finally arrived on my doorstep not too long ago. I had originally requested one for my previous apartment building, but it did not arrive in time before we moved out (if it arrived at all).

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Testing our water was easy peasy. All I had to do was follow the instructions and put the box back out on the porch for pickup.

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Before testing, you cannot run water for at least 6 hours. This allows your water to settle in the pipes and will give a more accurate reading. So no toilet flushing, showering, laundry, nothing. I completed the test right when I got home from work or you can do it in the morning after waking up.

 

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There were three different sample bottles to fill while the sink was flushing. One for when you immediately turn on the tap, one for three minutes later, and one for five minutes since turning on the tap.

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I then filled out a form marking the dates and times the samples were taken and any additional information about our building. I didn’t know when our pipes were last replaced, but I was able to put down that our building is 130 years old.

After that, I packed the bottles back up in the box, scheduled a pickup, and then set it back out on my doorstep.

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I will be contacted by the Department of Water Quality with the results via phone or email and the results will be provided to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, as well as posted here.

So our results are TBD and I will let you know when I hear back! If you are interested in testing your water quality, fill out this form.

When You Get Mail for 6 People Who Don’t Live in Your Apartment

Life in the city means people move a lot.

When you move into a new place, you eventually get mail addressed to the previous tenant. Usually, it is just a catalog or a flyer, not a big deal, those can be tossed in the recycling bin (or you can call and remove your address from their mailing list and keep a big spreadsheet of what companies you contacted and when to make sure you don’t ever receive another Soft Surroundings catalog again…but that’s just me).

One way to combat this on your own end is to fill out an official change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service. That will make sure all of your mail gets to you and not the new tenants of your old abode.

Please, spare them from having to do what’s next.

Since being in our new place about 6 weeks, we have received tons of the previous tenant’s mail, and it is not just the person who lived in our unit last. I counted 6 different names on the below pieces of mail.

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These important pieces of mail, such as bank and retirement savings, cannot just be tossed in the recycling bin since that is actually a crime, so DON’T DO THAT.

But what do you do if six different people who don’t live in your unit, let alone your building, are getting mail at your address?

First, keep everything, besides the junk flyers or anything addressed to “So and So or Current Resident.” Those can be recycled, or do as I do and keep the Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons. Then, use a permanent marker and write on each piece:

“Return to Sender, Not at This Address”

Now put them back in the mail to be dealt with. So far, I have only received an Architectural Digest back in the mail, so I am going to try again.

See below for some other tips and tricks, such as marking out barcodes, to keep someone else’s mail from crowding your mailbox when all you are looking forward to is a card from your mom.

Wedding Food Waste: How Much Did We Collect?

As you may know, one of my wedding vendors was a compost collection service.

Which is totally not normal and really awesome. 

Healthy Soil Compost, the company that has come to my apartment every month for the past 2 years to pick up my 5-gallon bucket, got to be a part of my wedding day.

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Working with my caterers, food waste was collected in larger rollaway totes, rather than my usual 5-gallon bucket. Scraps were collected in the kitchen, as well as out in the reception space.

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Me, in my wedding dress, and one of the Healthy Soil Compost containers.

Having the opportunity to support my values on my wedding day was extremely important to me. When else do you get to craft an event that is truly all about you and what you believe in?

139 pounds of organic material

At the end of the night, Healthy Soil had collected 139 pounds of organic material that would have otherwise gone straight into a landfill.

10 pounds of finished compost

Our 139 pounds of organic material (aka tacos) will produce 10 pounds of finished compost to go back into the earth and grow more goodies.

100 pounds of GHG

This entire process saved 100 pounds of greenhouse gas carbon emissions from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Small changes can make a difference. Now, go compost for your next event!

The Oops Tag

I have been “recycling” in Chicago for over two years now and the other day finally saw something I had only heard of on the internet…

The Oops Tag.

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First of all, I say recycling in quotes because I do not fully believe that even half of what I have diligently cleaned and separated makes it to a recycling facility.

But anyway, these oops tags were rolled out by the Department of Streets and Sanitation last summer in an effort to educate Chicagoans about what can and cannot go in the blue bin.

The tag is supposed to be marked with what contaminant was found in the blue bin but looks like that did not happen in the above case.

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These blue bins were obviously not mine, but of a neighbor’s down the street. I noticed the tags as I walked through the alley, but I did not snoop in the bins to see what the issue was to warrant the tags.

While Chicago’s recycling rate is the pits, I am not sure these tags will do much to combat that. Now that I live in a building with an alley, people’s blue bins are much more accessible and people toss stuff in other people’s bins all the time. So controlling what happens in your bin is kind of difficult.

 

I Think I Finally Won

I think it happened.

It is finally over (maybe).

RedPlum coupons have not been on my doorstep the past 3 Tuesdays. The first Tuesday it was not there, I figured it to be a fluke. The second Tuesday, I got more hopeful. And the third Tuesday, made me feel triumphant!

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Victory!

This was not an easy victory, as I highlighted previously multiple times. It came at a price of being so consistently persistent that I vowed to tweet at the Chicago Tribune every week until it stopped showing up on my doorstep. Something no other sane Chicagoan would put themselves through.

I started on this journey back in January and tracked every piece of it.

  • January 9: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 9: Emailed insideshopper@chicagotribune.com to have our address removed
  • January 9: Received automated email response “Thank you for contacting the Chicago Tribune Inside Shopper department – your email is important to us. Please expect a response within 24 hours.”
  • January 10: Did not hear back in 24 hours.
  • January 11: A Twitter follower suggested using an online form to unsubscribe. I filled out the form.
  • January 16: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 23: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 30: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 22: Called the number listed to be removed and was told it would take 2-3 weeks.
  • February 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Called again to be removed and asked if it would take 2-3 weeks, they said no.
  • March 26: Direct messaged RedPlum on Twitter
  • March 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 27: RedPlum responded to my Twitter message, saying: “Thank you. Your address was removed from our distribution list on 1/12/18. We are contacting the Chicago Tribune, who handles delivery in your area, to make them aware of the delivery error.”
  • April 3: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 10: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune. This time, they told me they would tell the delivery people that I have already called multiple times.

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  • April 17: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 17: Received a reply to my tweet from a Chicago Tribune digital editor

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  • April 19: Got a voicemail from Chicago Tribune customer service referencing my tweets. When I called back it was just the same number I had been calling for weeks. I asked for the representative who had left the voicemail (Lillian), the person on the phone could not get her.
  • April 24: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 25: Got another call from Lillian about my tweets. She asked for my address again (I have literally given it to them 25 times by now). She did inquire if I was the owner of the building because technically if RedPlum is being delivered to a building with multiple units, it is the owner who would have to go through this horrendous process. I assured her that no, I was not the owner, no one in my building wants it, and there was no way the owner would slave away at this. Lillian said she would follow up with the distributor and to allow 1-2 weeks for service to stop.
  • May 1: Did not receive
  • May 8: Did not receive
  • May 15: Did not receive

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So maybe, just maybe, I have won the battle with RedPlum and InsideShopper. I did not want to get too excited the first week it didn’t show, but I am hoping 3 weeks in a row means this has finally come to an end.

Thank goodness I succeeded because we are about to move! Fingers crossed our new building doesn’t get it or I am going to have to start all over. At least my current neighbors can thank me for ridding them of such unnecessary waste!

Earth Day Digging

It’s finally not freezing here in Chicago and for the first time, it felt like spring on Sunday/Earth Day.

Despite the lack of green currently growing, I joined a volunteer event with My Block My Hood My City and Heartland Alliance to get their urban garden ready for planting in the East Garfield Park neighborhood.

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Over 200 people showed up! My group was set to weeding the beds and then filling them in with fresh compost.

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We got to dig, pull, rake, and shovel for a couple hours, getting the ground ready for planting.

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All the fresh vegetables produced from the garden go to benefit local food pantries and feed families all across Chicago.

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Overall, it was a great afternoon spent outside, in a new neighborhood, helping feed others in my city.

What did you do for Earth Day?