For a Water System That Works

There is a public health crisis happening in Milwaukee as thousands of households in the city are learning about dangerous levels of lead exposure in their drinking water. The science is clear that lead laterals pose risks to children, pregnant women, and women who may become pregnant, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there is “no safe blood lead level in children,” that there “are no obvious symptoms of lead exposure,” and lead blood poisoning “…can affect nearly every system in the body.”

Municipal water systems purify water and make it safe for drinking. They test the water as it exits the treatment plants to ensure their systems are working. Treated water is then delivered to homes, businesses, schools, and every other property with water service through pipes connected to service lines called “laterals” that are the property owner’s responsibility to maintain.

The City of Milwaukee knows that about 70,000 homes constructed before 1951 receive city water that passes through lead laterals and service lines, putting those families at risk of exposure to lead in their water. Most of the families at risk earn modest livings or live in poverty.

Currently, it is suggested that property owners concerned that their property is served by lead pipes replace their lateral – costing as much $9,000 per lateral. At a time when people are working two and three jobs just to get by this cost must seem impossible for many affected households.

Wisconsin residents who cannot afford to replace lead laterals are forced to consider other options that can only be described as unacceptable — like running water through each faucet for ten minutes before using it, boiling water before using it, or installing water filters. This forces some families in Wisconsin to drink, cook, brush their teeth, bathe, and live in homes that may be poisoning them all – even their children.

It’s time for Gov. Scott Walker to show some real leadership and put an end to this travesty. The concern about contaminated water is not just a Milwaukee issue – it’s a Wisconsin issue. According to an EPA estimate, more than 176,000 lead service lines connect Wisconsin homes to iron water mains that deliver municipal water. Scott Walker’s policies have stripped local control from cities, towns, and villages and made it impossible for local officials to consider a comprehensive solution.

The Private Lead Service Line (PLS) Replacement Program is a $14.5 million dollar program that provides a drop in the bucket of the funding needed to assist disadvantaged communities and residents throughout Wisconsin with the debt-free replacement of lead service lines on private property. The cost to replace the lead laterals in the 70,000 properties in Milwaukee alone could range between $210 to $630 million. The fact that at least 38 communities are already participating in PLS in Wisconsin confirms this is a huge problem in our state.

The lessons of Flint, Michigan cannot go unlearned here in Wisconsin where working families earning a modest living and families living in poverty are at risk of being poisoned by lead pipe laterals and can’t fight back. If Scott Walker can figure out a way to give Taiwan’s Foxconn what is now estimated to be at least $4.5 billion, he ought to be able to figure out how to stop Wisconsinites from being poisoned right here at home. It’s time for Walker to invest in PLS to eliminate the risks of lead poisoning from laterals statewide, and to demand President Donald Trump expand the funding available from the EPA to help.

This shouldn’t be a political issue. This affects real people and that hits very close to home for Andy. Years ago, Andy moved his family into a home that he later learned was polluted with toxigenic mold that made his entire family sick. Andy and his family had to move out of their home immediately because it wasn’t safe to live in, and later watched their former home torn down.

Andy knows what it’s like to call poison control, the health department, the children’s hospital, and countless medical professionals to find answers to what long-term health effects exposure to the toxins found in his home could have on his then two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. He also knows what it’s like to feel the anxiety of not receiving any good answers. Andy was lucky to have been in the position to fight back for his family. He fought to return everyone to good health, but also fought for justice for his family and other families by going up against very powerful interests.

Andy was fortunate to have the resources to fight for his family, but you shouldn’t have to be wealthy to live in a house that won’t poison your kids. Every family deserves to live in a healthy home and in times of crisis, they need to know their leaders are looking out for them. After all, one of the principal responsibilities of government is to protect public health.

People across our state want to know their government is listening and putting their interests first. They want a governor willing to fight for them. That’s why Andy’s running — to fight for Wisconsin families confronted with a broken system that has left them behind. He’ll fight for these families as hard as he fought for his own.

When Andy is elected governor, he will:

  • Comprehensively expand PLS to adequately address the statewide issue of lead laterals poisoning Wisconsin families and seek full cooperation and funding from the EPA to help address this health crisis;
  • Work closely with state and national public health officials and recognized experts to update the means by which public utilities test the safety of water systems and distribution networks and make the testing data collected transparent and understandable to the public.