There’s something in the water

Does it matter that there might be lead in your drinking water?

Yes.

Lead laterals beneath the city streets pump potentially dangerous amounts of lead through lead pipes into the homes of about 70,000 Milwaukee residents built before 1951. According to Marc Edwards, professor of environmental and civil engineering at Virginia Tech, “As long as the lead pipe is there, no one should consider the water safe” to drink.

So, why does it matter?

We live in the most segregated city in America that tragically is the home of the most highly-incarcerated zip code in the country. In zip code 53206, over 60 percent of our black men will spend time in prison before their thirtieth birthday. Our violent crime rate is four times the national average.

I don’t believe it’s by accident.

What if I told you there was a chemical that is linked to higher crime rates and lower brain development? What if I told you that this chemical drastically affects one’s ability to control impulse and regulate emotion? What if you knew that increased exposure to this chemical has been linked to everything from ADHD to teen pregnancy rates?

That chemical is lead, and it’s quietly destroying Milwaukee. For 70,000 families, each and every day they drink water that may be laced with lead. These lead pipes are found in the “old” parts of Milwaukee. Let’s not play. We all know that “old” is code for “black.”  When Milwaukee burned last month, it was because of injustice and inequity. Solving the lead crisis could solve a lot of our problems. Imagine removing one of the leading environmental indicators of crime and academic disparities.

When the Flint, Michigan water scandal broke, the nation paid attention because you could see it in their water. I’m telling you, you might not be able to see the lead in our water, but it’s there and it’s trouble.

In 2014, 8.6% of tested Milwaukee children had lead amounts in their blood over the level at which health problems are known to arise. That’s worse than the kids in Flint, Michigan and a year before the Flint scandal broke. Knowing this is a problem for our children, why aren’t we doing something about it? In fact, only 20% of children under the age of six were tested in 2014.

For all we know, we have an epidemic on our hands. Where is the care and compassion for these children? It’s no wonder our people are upset and taking to the streets. We have been knowingly poisoning our babies without a care for the consequences while the concerns of our people have fallen on deaf ears.

Do you think we’d be having these issues of violence and crime if we had given attention to this problem years ago? When New York reduced lead in gasoline, it also saw its crime rates fall 75%. The connection between lead and crime just can’t be ignored.

We need to get the lead out ASAP! We need all hands on deck. That includes everyone from the healthcare industry, to teachers, to childcare providers, but most importantly, parents.  All parents should get their children tested for lead poisoning, especially if they are under six years old. Milwaukee recommends that all children be tested three times before their third birthday, and if you live in housing built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovation, your child may be at a heightened risk. Your Primary Care Provider can administer this blood test during your child’s annual checkup. Most insurance plans and HMOs will pay for a lead test, and Medicaid-enrolled children can get tested for free. 

For more information on testing your children for lead exposure, you can contact the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 414-286-5987. If you live in a home built before the 1950’s, I urge you to get a tap filter. They cost about $30, but your health is well worth it.

I don’t claim to know all the answers. But when the evidence shows how detrimental something as simple as lead is to our community’s wellbeing, it seems like the answer is simple: get the lead out.

Connect with Senator Lena C. Taylor on social media on Facebook.com/SenLenaTaylor, Twitter.com/SenTaylor or follow her at Instagram.com/Lena.Taylor.