City of Milwaukee and CDC disagree on guidelines for level of lead poisoning

MILWAUKEE, WI – The City of Milwaukee is receiving millions of dollars from the federal government to help replace lead drains and clean up contaminated drinking water.

But when it comes to tackling lead poisoning in children, the CDC and the city have different ideas about what actionable blood lead levels should be.

In November 2021, the Biden administration signed a bipartisan infrastructure bill giving Wisconsin $841 million over five years to improve the statewide water framework.

As of 2021, Milwaukee Water Works reports that over 40% of the city’s water pipes are lead. That’s about 67,000 water pipes.

Master plumber and owner at Milestone Plumbing Jessie Cannizzaro works on homes that have lead water pipes.

“A lot of houses in our area actually have lead laterals that go under their basement to a different place in the basement and also back up. So we see companies going to court to get rid of lead. People have started asking questions and are starting to proactively try to address their concerns by getting rid of those lead lines,” Cannizarro said.

She says if you have lead laterals, you might also have lead pipes in your house.

“If your house has the water meter, the pipe that goes up there, and then on the outlet side of the water meter it goes back underground, you probably also have lead on the inside portion serving your pipes as well.”

Cannizarro says it’s more common to have lead exterior pipes.

But when it comes to guidelines for lead poisoning levels in children, the city and the CDC disagree.

The CDC states that the workable blood lead level in children is 3.5 micrograms per deciliter.

However, the City of Milwaukee workable blood lead level for children is 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Coalition On Lead emergency president Richard Diaz says these inconsistencies in actionable blood lead levels are putting children’s lives at risk.

“And for the city of Milwaukee, that would double the number of cases to 5 (micrograms per deciliter), so there would be about 3,200 cases of children tested for lead poisoning at 3.5 or higher,” Diaz said.

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