Could Milwaukee be the next Flint?By Carlos Gamino

In 2014, almost 4,000 Wisconsin kids were diagnosed with elevated lead levels in their blood.

In Milwaukee alone, 8.6 percent of the kids tested in 2014 had blood lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter – and that’s the level at which kids are known to suffer from health problems.

Apparently, though, standard testing for lead in the blood begins at around 12 months of age. Unfortunately, testing kids at age 1 misses those who have been formula-fed with tap water that could contain lead.

Lead is extremely dangerous in children, and once the damage is done, there’s no reversing the effects.

Learning disabilities and developmental delays are most prevalent in lead-poisoned kids under the age of 6, whose brains are still developing and are therefore most vulnerable. Disruptive behavior and a possible link to violent crime in adulthood are other effects, and lead exposure in pregnant women can cause fetal death.

In Wisconsin, public water utilities are only required to take remedial action to remove lead from the water if more than 10 percent of household tap water samples exceed 15 parts per billion. Let’s say that 9 percent of household tap water samples exceed 30 parts per billion; the public water utilities don’t have to do anything because the 10 percent threshold hasn’t been met.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Learn about lead poisoning and its symptoms – Lead Safe America Foundation is a good place to start – and if you suspect your home may have lead coming in through the water, invest in a filter that pulls out the particles. Visit the Department of Natural Resources’ lead information sheet to learn even more. In the meantime:

  • Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. Boiling won’t help; it can concentrate the lead.
  • Avoid drinking water or cooking with water that’s been sitting in the pipes overnight. Never run your faucet at full-force, either – you could flake off lead from your plumbing if you do.
  • Inspect your faucet aerators for lead particles.
  • Have your tap water tested.
  • Purchase a filter.

There is no safe level for lead in the blood, so it’s extremely important that you know what you’re up against. If your home was built before 1950, or if you suspect you have lead in your water, get in touch with the Milwaukee Health Department.

Carlos Gamino