Aluminum air pipes

Wisconsin set to receive over $48 million to replace lead pipes

Wisconsin’s efforts to eliminate lead pipes are getting a boost from federal funding, with the state set to receive $48 million next year to replace lead water pipes.

The money is part of an $841 million Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act package to improve the state’s water infrastructure.

According Data from the Public Service Commissionthere were 173,052 lead service lines statewide in 2020.

More than 40% of them were in Milwaukee. Since 2017, the city has replaced 4,952 pipelinesbut limited funding and labor shortages have hampered progress.

“The bipartisan Infrastructure Act will help accelerate the pace of this work so that we can replace more lead service lines each year and allow us to expand our program beyond its current limits,” the mayor said. of Milwaukee, Cavalier Johnson, at a press conference. conference on Wednesday.

Johnson said no amount of lead in the body is harmless. Even exposure to small amounts can cause serious health problems.

“Lead builds up in the body over time and has serious negative health effects, especially in our younger residents,” he said.

Children under the age of 6 who are exposed to lead are more likely to develop permanent problems, including brain damage, stunted growth, academic difficulties, and lowered IQ.

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“My son was hospitalized not once, but twice for lead poisoning,” said Deanna Branch, a member of the Coalition on Lead Emergency and mother of two children who had lead poisoning. “But I’m not alone. So many mothers and parents are going through the same thing as me.”

She said the problem is especially serious for low-income people and communities of color.

Branch’s children are two of many injured by lead. In a 2020 test of about 65,000 children under age 6 in the state, 3.3% tested above 5 micrograms per deciliter – an amount associated with reduced intelligence and behavioral difficulties. In Milwaukee County, about 5.5% tested above that level.

This funding is still not enough, said Get the Lead Out Coalition Member of the Steering Committee Robert Miranda. In Milwaukee alone, the Public Service Commission estimated that it would cost $750 million to replace the city’s lead service lines. Miranda said it was crucial to act now because the problem could only get worse.

“These pipes have a life expectancy of 60 to 70 years,” he said. “The pipes we have in the state and in Milwaukee in particular have doubled that expiration date, and as they get older the particles that are released increase and the danger to the community also increases.”

Some cities in the state have successfully phased out lead pipelines. Madison successfully replaced the known 8000 rows with copper pipes. In 2020, Green Bay completed a five-year project to remove more than 2,000 pipelines.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the amount of federal water infrastructure funding being spent on replacing lead pipes.