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How would you feel if I told you that there was a chemical in your drinking water that was linked to higher crime rates and lowered brain development? That this chemical drastically affects one’s ability to control impulses and regulate emotions? That 4,000 Wisconsin children tested positive for elevated levels of this chemical in their bloodstream, and 60% of those children were from Milwaukee?

You would be furious.

This chemical is lead, and Milwaukee is infected. Currently, we have 70,000 lead pipes running through the homes of Milwaukee residents. These pipes are common in the “old” part of town. Let’s be real. We all know that “old” is code for “black.” It is no coincidence that the problem of lead has disproportionately affected the black community and that little action has been taken to right these wrongs.

Let me be clear about one thing – no amount of lead is safe. Lead is a silent killer. Remember the water crisis in Flint, Michigan? Almost twice the amount of children in Milwaukee tested positive for lead levels even higher than Flint’s children. Just because Milwaukee hasn’t been in the national spotlight like Flint, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem worth solving.

These are scary numbers, but the good news is we can prevent these problems if we get the lead out. This session, I intend to roll out a package of bills that will do just that:

1) Water Utility Enabling Legislation (Senate Bill 48)
Because replacing just a few lead service lines could cause more lead to leach into the water, we have to replace every single lead pipe. Under current law, water utilities can only use rate-payer revenue to replace publicly owned lines.

This past week, I testified on Senate Bill 48 to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. This bill would allow water utilities companies to fund the replacement of both public and private sections of the lead lines, not just ones owned by the city. We can’t just replace some of the lead lines. We have to replace all of them. Period. I’m confident that this legislation will be a significant step in getting the lead out.

2) Lead Disclosure:
You have a right to know if there’s lead in your water. This bill would require anyone renting or selling a home to disclose whether or not there’s lead present in water supplies and plumbing fixtures.

3) Lead Testing for Children:
We need to protect our babies. The sad truth is that only 20% of children under the age of six were tested for lead exposure in 2014. We could have an epidemic on our hands. My proposal would require testing kids for lead at ages one, two, and six months before they started school.

4) Lead Service Line Removal Funding:
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, created in 1996, provides financial support to state water programs and systems. We need to ensure that the program has necessary funding, and that it’s distributed equitably so that Milwaukee has its fair share to remove its thousands of lead lines.

5) Bottled Water and Filters through WIC
While we work to get the lead out, we need to provide safe drinking water for everyone. Right now, mothers on WIC can buy formula to feed their babies, but this isn’t an option when you’re using lead-tainted water and can’t buy bottled water with your benefits. Those receiving WIC benefits are just as entitled to clean water access as everyone else.

Getting the lead out will be a challenge. But it’s a challenge we owe it to our children to take on. A future free of toxic water is a future I want to see.

When there’s so much evidence that something as simple as lead is so detrimental to our community’s wellbeing, our response should be just as simple: get the lead out.

Written by State Sen. Lena Taylor

State Sen. Lena Taylor

Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor represents the 4th State Senate District in Milwaukee.

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