In April 2016 Tom Barrett won his fourth term as Mayor of Milwaukee. In his election victory speech he said that we need to take action on the lead water crisis. Now in September, 2016 the Mayor’s 2017 budget presented to the Common Council has no city funding for the replacement of lead lateral water pipes connecting the water main to 70, 000 homes.

The Mayor’s budget talks about lead, using Federal money to add more homes to the 17, 000 homes that the city has made lead paint safe, using State money to replace lead water pipes at Day Care Centers and replacing up to 300 lead water pipes that break or leak. However, there is no money for 70,000 homes, mostly in minority areas, where lead is leaching into tap water and poisoning children.

This failure of the Mayor to propose money in the 2017 budget for lead pipe replacement follows the pattern of segregation that makes Milwaukee the second poorest city and the worst city in to be black and raise a black child in the USA.

In older homes, built before 1950, lead pipes, often required by the city, are used to deliver water from the water main to homes. These older homes are mainly located in segregated African American neighborhoods in North Central Milwaukee and Hispanic/Latino neighbors in South Central Milwaukee. These neighborhoods, with many residents living below the poverty line, are again being ignored by the City.

City officials have known for years that lead pipes leach toxic lead poisoning into the water. Putting chemicals into the water to line pipes, using water filters to remove lead, and running the water before using it are all ways to reduce lead. But as experts tell us the only real way to insure health and safety of water is to replace the lead laterals.

Milwaukee lead water crisis is worse than the one in Flint, Michigan. In 2015, at the height of the crisis in Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested in Flint had dangerous levels of blood in their bodies. The same year, 2015, 8.5% of the children of Milwaukee tested for lead in blood had dangerous levels. In racially segregated neighborhoods like 53206, over 95% African American, 19.9% of children, 6 and under, who were tested had dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

Lead has no smell, taste or visibility in water. As one expert recently said you can test the water many times and find little or no lead in the water. Yet one particulate, a minute separate particle, of lead can leach into the water making the next glass of water toxic perhaps leading to permanent body and brain damage.

Young children, infants and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. Even low levels of exposure to lead have been linked to brain damage, damage to central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, impaired hearing and other health problems. Cities with lead lateral water pipes have demonstrated a 24% higher homicide rate, a higher infant mortality rates, poor school performance and more crime.

The effects of lead water pipe replacement might not be seen right away like the new streetcar, city development and sports arena downtown that is taking hundreds of millions of city taxpayer monies. However, the long term effects such as less special education, lower crime rates, healthy adults and children will be enormous.
As the Mayor says, it will take a lot of money and many years to rid Milwaukee of lead water pipes. However, the Mayor is unwilling to even use the 12 million dollars the city receives from water revenue. We need to begin the journey in 2017 by directing our city money to lead water pipe replacement. Who knows, maybe in 20 years Milwaukee will not be on so many ‘Top Ten Worst Cities’ lists including Top Worst Run Cities in America. (Wall Street Journal, 2014)

If for no other reason, we need to replace lead water pipes for the health and welfare of our children.

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Page last modified on October 07, 2016

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