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Many of us are environmentally aware — many recycle, some conserve water, you might ride a bike to work. But we do face profound environmental challenges.Help WUWM’s Environmental Reporter Susan Bence dig deeper into the issues you are most concerned about._

As Mayor Unveiled Budget, One Milwaukeean Wants Tending Lead Laterals To Happen

LaToya Dennis
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in June 2016.

During his budget address Monday, Mayor Tom Barrett’s says replacing lead laterals of 70,000 homes would cost $770 million.

Barrett calls his proposed 2017 budget a starting point of his commitment to full removal, which would include:

"These new changes will also ensure low and fixed income homeowners don't have to choose between replacing their lines and keeping their lights on."

-          Allocating  $5.2 million to remove lead lines at 385 day care facilities in 2016-2017.

-          2017 budget includes funding to cover approximately 300 residential lines when they leak or fail.

-          Requests oordnance changes that mandate full lead service line replacement, and at the same time keep owners costs to replacing lead lines to less than $20 a month.

-          Negotiating with local trades and workforce partners to create a lead lateral replacement training and job creation program. 

In addition, Barrett asked the Milwaukee Common Council to join him in advocating for fair funding for lead lateral removals at the state and federal levels.

Concerns have rumbled across Milwaukee for several weeks, after the Barrett casually suggested people living in homes built before 1952 install water filters to safeguard against possible lead exposure from older pipes.

READ: Milwaukee Residents Worried about Lead in Drinking Water Rush to Buy Filters

Credit S Bence
Kimberly Thomas-Britt shared her concerns at September 16 water quality task force meeting at City Hall.

Kimberly Thomas-Britt is concerned for her own children along with her neighbors and friends.

Thomas-Britt says she tunes into public health issues.

She routinely reads the labels of food she buys to serve to her five children, and when the water coming out of their kitchen tap appeared cloudy.

“I know there are times you should just let you water run. I did so. You should see some clarity in the water; that lets you know the particles are fine and being dissolved. I noticed they weren’t dissolving. So that was of concern; the color was another concern,” Thomas-Britt says.

She took action, replacing all the plumbing throughout the house.

“They were rusted, they were completely gone. So what we did was make the choice to convert them to CPVC,” Thomas-Britt says.

CPVC is a thermoplastic material that holds up under high temperatures.

Thomas-Britt felt it was investment she should make for her family’s health. However, “I still saw the cloudiness,” she says.

Thomas-Britt did more homework. She purchased both a Brita-style filtering jug to store in the fridge and a filter for her kitchen faucet. “You look at the aisle for water filters, and me knowing there is no 100 percent way to remove lead from water, I decided the best choice will be 99 percent, so that’s what we chose,” she says.

Thomas-Britt says her family installed the filter just days before Mayor Barrett publicly recommended that a lot of people do the same.

It was only then Thomas-Britt says she learned her home was among 70,000 at increased risk of lead contamination, because of the old lead pipes that connect those homes to city water.

“So I went on the Milwaukee Water Works website. I was surprised to know there was this website that gave the addresses. So I looked through it and me and my neighbors talk quite often, I looked at upwards of 30 addresses and they were all on there – family members I had with multiple children, so households,” Thomas-Britt adds, “And I thought about my mother-in-law who doesn’t have internet and so many other people who wouldn’t think to look there.”

The city says it notified all affected homes, early this year.

Thomas-Britt says she was left questioning her ability to be a good mom – the kind that protects her kids from harm.

“I’m an educated woman; I know scientific methods. And here, I’m thinking I can’t even protect them from drinking water,” she explains.

Thomas-Britt says she takes her responsibility seriously.

She hopes Milwaukee’s 2017 budget expresses the city’s commitment to treat its complex and expensive lead challenge, as a public health priority.

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