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Milwaukee partners with local groups to provide free water filters for residents

Mayor hopes to stop lead poisoning from becoming a bigger problem

City officials in Milwaukee are making efforts to prevent lead poisoning by teaming up with United Way, local hospitals and health care agencies on a $75,000 program to provide water filters for low-income families.

Last month, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and city health commissioner Bevan K. Baker announced the funding for water filters in hopes of reducing the amount of lead seeping into water supplies. There have been reports of lead in pipes that connect to about 70,000 of the city’s older homes, specifically ones built before 1951. Baker plans to concentrate first on homes where there are pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding and households with children under the age of 6.

“We continue to look at ways that we can minimize the risk of ingestion of lead from water and homes, and this is a great step in that direction,” Baker told Fox 6. “Residents with homes with lead service lines who have those children under 6, especially those bottle-fed infants, are going to be our top priority. Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, we’re going to make certain that we focus on them.”

Milwaukee began a lead treatment program in 1996 to educate the public about the effects of lead poisoning and monitor lead contamination. So far, blood lead levels for children under 6 have decreased by 90 percent since 1997, and by 64 percent since 2003, according to a news release.

“The City of Milwaukee Health Department is committed to making Milwaukee ‘lead safe’ for all residents,” Baker said. “Through lead paint abatement, effective water treatment and the control of lead hazards in soil, toys, food and other sources, we can continue to eliminate or reduce exposure to lead in our environment.”

With the help of local businesses, hospitals, health care agencies and community leaders, Barrett hopes the city will be able to combat these issues through water filters and pipe replacement.

“The city of Milwaukee has aggressively worked to reduce children’s exposure to lead hazards, and can report we are seeing the lowest levels on record today,” Barrett said. “As we work to drive down rates even further by minimizing exposure to all lead hazards, I thank our dedicated community leaders for stepping forward to support this work.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.