Lead levels across the state are at unacceptable levels, especially for children -- but little is being done
The crisis in Flint, Michigan, demonstrated that lead continues to be a problem in our nation’s drinking water. Pipes that go into people’s homes are still contaminated with lead.
In Madison, the lead problem has been substantially reduced, thanks to a large-scale effort more than a decade ago to remove lead pipes from the city’s water system. But the rest of the state is less fortunate, including the city of Milwaukee, which is seeing its own silent lead epidemic.
One in every twelve kids in our state’s largest city tested positive for high levels of lead in their bloodstream in 2014. But it’s not just in our big cities, either: in Watertown, 8.4 percent of kids have high lead levels. Across the rest of the state, 4.5 percent of children tested higher than the acceptable standards.
Those rates are inexcusable, especially when you consider what the effects of such poisoning can bring about -- neurological disruptions, learning disabilities, aggression, higher rates of ADD/ADHD and depression, poor body coordination, and more problems, have been associated with lead poisoning. (Some historians even consider the fall of the Roman Empire to have been partly influenced by the Romans’ exposures to lead.)
Having a higher exposure rate to lead is also “a more powerful predictor of poor school performance than poverty or class size.”
Disturbing as it is to see such a high number of children exposed to lead in Wisconsin, it’s much more troubling to discover that the state hasn’t yet changed its own standards to reflect new research on childhood lead exposure. From FOX 6 in Milwaukee: (emphasis in bold mine)
But if you're a child in Wisconsin, that diagnosis, and eventual treatment, can be much harder to get. In Wisconsin, kids aren't considered to have lead poisoning until their lead levels are twice as high as what the federal government recommends.When Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) learned of this, she wrote to the state Department of Health Services about what was being done specifically to address the matter of why the state’s standards didn’t match federal recommendations. She received a letter that explained quite plainly that it costs too much to make any changes.
This prompted FOX 6 in Milwaukee to reach out to DHS. Chuck Worzecha, Deputy Administrator of the department, said to them, “I don't think there's anything simple about changing laws, and regulations. I think there's always consequences for any of those changes.”
Yet there are consequences for doing nothing, too, and in this instance it comes at the expense of our children’s health. Gov. Scott Walker’s administration needs to see this problem for what it really is -- a lead crisis that needs to be fixed, and not something that can be ignored or brushed aside as a political matter. Our children’s lives depend on it.