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What You Need To Know About Lead: A Resource Guide For Milwaukee Residents

plumber replace lead pipes by plastic pipeline by health danger
Genaro Diaz
Common sources of lead exposure can include paint chips and dust, water contaminated by lead-coated pipes, soil contaminated with paint dust or chips and antique toys.

Here's what you need to know about potential sources of lead in your home, lead testing, abatement and other services related to this public health crisis.

To learn more, watch a special Listen MKE Live event at noon on April 27 at our Facebook page or on YouTube. Guests include Dr. Veneshia McKinney-Whitson, a family medicine physician and assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Deanna Branch whose young son has been impacted by lead poisoning.

Listen MKE is a collaboration between WUWM, the Ideas Lab at the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library.

Testing for lead in your home

Sources of lead can include paint (including chips and dust), water contaminated by lead-coated pipes, soil contaminated with paint dust or chips, antique toys, hazardous jobs, materials used in ceramics and jewelry-making, and health tonics or cosmetics imported from countries outside the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a comprehensive description of items that can potentially be contaminated with lead, and the Milwaukee Health Department has a brief overview of potential lead sources in the home.

Homes built before 1970 have the highest risk of lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil; you can search the city of Milwaukee's assessment records to see when your residence was built.

Federal law requires sellers, sales agents and landlords to disclose potential lead hazards in residences built before 1978. If you are a renter and your landlord refuses to address lead problems, you can call the Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center at 414-895-7368 for assistance.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, two Wisconsin companies — North Builders Inc. and ServiceMaster Recovery by Restoration Holdings — are certified abatement firms that can analyze soil and paint chips for lead. The Milwaukee Health Department is also able to test paint chips, soil and dust wipes at its lab upon request.

If you live in Milwaukee, you can use its directory to see if your home has a lead lateral. The city has a home test to help you determine if your pipes contain lead.

Testing children and adults for lead

Although there is no "safe" level of lead in the body, doctors recommend that levels of lead in the blood remain below 5 micrograms per deciliter.

These symptoms could indicate lead poisoning: sudden increases in impulsive behavior, lack of concentration, worsening school performance and aggression towards others, or a noticeable failure to meet growth markers.

Wisconsin's Department of Health Services has a webpage dedicated to information about lead testing, including resources for low-income families.

The city of Milwaukee also has lead-testing recommendations as well as case management services. For more information about the city of Milwaukee's testing services, you can call a member of the health department's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (MHD CLPPP) nursing staff at 414-286-5987.

For Medicaid and BadgerCare recipients, there are certain requirements for lead testing. Those who qualify for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program are able to bring their children in for lead testing; you can read more information about that here.

Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers conduct lead testing for children; get more information about testing and education at the organization's webpage or call 414-897-5592.

The Social Development Commission offers lead testing as part of its lead outreach program; view its webpage or call 414-906-2700.

The CDC has recommendations to lower elevated blood levels. Go to

You can review data collected by the Milwaukee Health Department on lead poisoning here.

Mitigating exposure to lead

If you have lead service lines, or are concerned your water may be contaminated, a filter labeled "NSF/ANSI/CAN 53" is recommended. The National Science Foundation has a list of lead-reducing mechanisms, including for kitchen filtration systems and faucets filters, on its website. The city also provides a list of filters here. You can call the Milwaukee Health Department at 414-286-2165 to see if you are eligible for a free water filter.

The National Science Foundation encourages people to use faucet fixtures and plumbing labeled "NSF/ANSI/CAN 61."

The Milwaukee Health Department urges people renovating their homes to take special precautions to reduce the amount of lead dust in the air, such as keeping children and pregnant women away from the area and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a wet mop to clean up lead dust; some households may be able to rent a vacuum with a HEPA filter from the city of Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's Department of Health Services has a list of companies that conduct lead-safe renovation, lead investigation, and lead abatement services.

Homeowners who choose to replace their portion of the lead service line can contact the city, and the city will replace its portion. If a line leaks or becomes damaged, the city may provide financial assistance through its Lead Service Line Replacement Program.

Wisconsin's Department of Health Services has a Lead-Safe Homes Program that will pay up to 100% of lead service line abatement costs for low-income families, pregnant women, families with children and others who qualify. For more information, go to this form or call 608-267-9191. More information about state programs offering financial aid is available.

More information about lead

DHS has a webpage dedicated to lead-related issues and webpages with toolkits and resources. The Milwaukee Health Department has a webpage with information.

Milwaukee Water Works has a webpage showing the progress of lead service lines that have been replaced along with other recommendations and procedures for residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a webform as well as a lead-focused hotline open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday: 800-424-5323.

You can also reach out to see if your neighborhood association has created an organization, such as the Sherman Park Parents Against Lead, to provide lead-related resources in your area.

Other organizations that work on lead issues include the Social Development Commission (414-906-2700), the Coalition on Lead Emergency (CoalitionOnLeadEmergency@gmail.com), Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center (414-895-7368) and Impact2-1-1.

Contact Talis Shelbourne at (414) 403-6651 or tshelbourn@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @talisseer and message her on Facebook at @talisseer.

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