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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Announces Water Filter Plan to Help Address Lead Pipes

Susan Bence
Health department commissioner Bevan Baker and community partners at Milwaukee City Hall Monday.

Many Milwaukeeans now know that approximately 70,000 older homes in Milwaukee have lead service lines, meaning lead could be mixing with tap water.

Mayor Tom Barrett suggesteda couple months ago that people living in homes built before 1951 filter their drinking water.

On Monday, local leaders announced the first steps in making Barrett’s suggestion a reality. The commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department Bevan Baker made the announcement.

The scene resembled an infomercial – but in this case a very important one. To Baker’s right stood a display of water filters – one a countertop unit, the other an electrically-powered pitcher.

“We’ve already procured more than 2,000 of these filters and they’ll be evenly distributed from our two partners here – Sixteenth Street andSocial Development Commission,” Baker said.

Later this month, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centerswill begin distributing the units to families on the south side; while the SDC will cover the north.

Baker said the first priority will be to reach families with infants being fed by bottle, as well as households with pregnant woman and children under the age of six.

Lead exposure can cause developmental disabilities, so it is especially harmful to young bodies.

The United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has helped raise $90,000 for the project. Vice President Nicole Angresano said a key component was coming up with the right filters.

“We looked a number of different products, a lot of those products are the small ones that you put on the faucet and those don’t last very long and have a lot of filter changes. So we really wanted to find a product that would be the easiest to install but also treat the most water, and that’s what we found,” Angresano said.

Organizers will also roll out a media campaign in coming weeks. Health Commissioner Bevan Baker said public education is equally as important as the filters.

“We need to work with area family practitioners and pediatricians to make certain that every child get tested three times before three and any child under the age of six that’s in a home with a lead hazard like a lead service line, still should get tested,” he said.

A local company is adding another layer of outreach. A.O. Smith is offering a discount program for residents of the Greater Milwaukee area who don’t qualify the free filters.

Water filtration is not a panacea for Milwaukee’s thousands of lead service lines. Over time, the pipes must be replaced.

First in line are the city’s 385 licensed day care centers that care for children under age six.

Clickor call 414-286-2830 to learn if you are eligible for the free filter program.

For those interested in the discount prices available through the end of 2016 click here.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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