Congress needs to act immediately to protect against lead in water danger to Wisconsin children
The recent report on blood lead levels in U.S. children by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics highlights the urgent need for congressional action on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better House reconciliation package, both of which include funding for cities to remove lead water lines that threaten the health of Wisconsin’s children.
The study reports that more than half of the one million children under age 6 tested had detectable levels of lead in their blood, uncovering a toxin that can impact pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children. While lead paint presents the biggest threat, replacing lead pipes is an important additional step, as even low blood lead levels can negatively impact IQ in children.
The State of Wisconsin has more than 240,000 lead lines that are in need of replacement. As members of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, an organization of 135 mayors seeking to advance solutions to water equity challenges facing Great Lakes cities, we are asking Congress to act on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We also request that members of Congress support the additional lead line removal funding now included in the House reconciliation bill.
The current infrastructure legislation does include $15 billion for replacing lead service lines. While a good start, fully addressing this public health challenge is estimated to cost $45 billion — the amount requested in President Biden’s original infrastructure proposal. That’s why we support both the infrastructure bill and the current reconciliation package in the House of Representatives, which includes the additional $30 billion needed to remove all lead water lines nationally.
Water is a key element of public health and a thriving economy. Unfortunately, across Wisconsin, communities are struggling due to the costs of old and sub-standard water infrastructure, and low-income and communities of color are suffering the most. Historical patterns that generated inequality have also fostered inequalities in water services.
According to JAMA Pediatrics, “substantial individual — and community — level disparities persist. Children living at or below the poverty line in older housing or in communities with high concentrations of poverty are at the greatest risk of the toxic effects from lead.”
While these issues have been with us for decades, we now have the opportunity to protect public health, create jobs, and ensure safe infrastructure for our children and grandchildren. Now is the time to act.
Tom Barrett is mayor of Milwaukee, Ryan Sorenson is mayor of Sheboygan and John Antaramian is mayor of Kenosha.