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Lead Poisoning: Wisconsin Among Worst in Midwest

Wisconsin still has 176,000 lead pipes carrying water into homes, which is one reason for the state's higher percentage of children with high blood lead levels. (Giambra/iStockPhoto)
Wisconsin still has 176,000 lead pipes carrying water into homes, which is one reason for the state's higher percentage of children with high blood lead levels. (Giambra/iStockPhoto)
October 26, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's blood lead poisoning levels among children are similar to the 2015 rate in Flint, Mich., according to a new report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF).

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, and blood lead poisoning is termed a preventable problem by health experts. They say we know what the problem is, and what the solutions are.

The Wisconsin Department of Human Services estimates a $7 billion annual cost saving if blood lead poisoning was eliminated. According to Leland Pan with WCCF, the state is among the worst in the Midwest for the problem.

"We have a higher blood lead level rate among children than Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana; I think only Ohio trumps us," said Pan. The percentage tested is about 4.6 percent of children under 6 years old tested have elevated blood lead levels. To put that in perspective, Flint's rate in 2015 was 4.9 percent."

The report says the most effective way to reduce blood lead poisoning levels is to prevent lead exposire. It suggests the state consider offering low-cost loans to homeowners to help them in removing lead from their property.

There are two principal sources of lead contamination. First, because many of Wisconsin's homes are older, they have lead paint, which was banned in 1978. It can flake off and create dust that children can inhale.

The second major problem in the state is lead water pipes.

"We have about 176,000 lead service lines in Wisconsin," Pan explained. "Over 70,000 of those are in Milwaukee County, but there are also a significant number in Racine, Manitowoc, Kenosha and Marathon."

He added that Madison and a handful of other communities have removed and replaced all lead water pipes.

Some Wisconsin communities, according to the report, have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint's rate of 4.9 percent. Milwaukee's rate is 8.6 percent. Watertown in Jefferson County and some communities in Sheboygan County have rates ranging from 6 to 8 percent.

Pan believes it is appropriate for the state to get involved.

"Lead poisoning is preventable; it is perfectly within public policy to prevent lead from getting into contact with children," he said. "And given its detrimental effects on children's development, it should be a priority in the state."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI