By Karen Stokes
City of Milwaukee leaders are rolling out an awareness campaign to advocate the prevention of lead based illnesses in children.
The campaign was announced on Friday at Moody Park on Milwaukee’s north side. The campaign focused on preventing lead poisoning from two major lead sources. The first and most prevalent is lead contained in paint and the second is lead in service lines and laterals that affect the water.
Although Flint, Michigan has received extensive media coverage on lead in their water system, many other cities including Milwaukee have had issues with lead in the water and paint.
“Lead is a health issue not only in this community but all over America,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “This has been going on for decades.”
The Center for Disease Control says even small amounts of lead found in children can affect their IQs.
“Three percent of Milwaukee children tested in 2015 showed dangerous blood lead levels,” said Alderman Jim Bohl.
According to the City of Milwaukee Health Department, approximately 535,000 U.S. children ages 1 to 5 have blood lead levels high enough to damage their health, and 24 million homes contain deteriorated lead-based paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust – – 4 million of these are home to young children.
In 2015, as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Human Services, 4.6 percent of tested children under 6-years-old statewide had elevated blood lead levels. This is a continued decrease from 6.4 percent in 2013 and 7.1 percent in 2012. It is higher than the national average and nearly as high as Flint’s rate of 4.9 percent in 2015.
Additionally, there are disparities based on region and ethnicity. Over 10 percent of tested African American children less than 6-years-old in Wisconsin have elevated blood lead levels.
“If you live in a house built before 1978 in all likeliness there is lead in the paint,” Barrett said.
Mayor Barrett also stated that the city of Milwaukee water contains no lead. The lead comes from the service lines or laterals. If you live in a house built before 1951, there is likely lead in the laterals serving your home.
The city has had a proactive approach to lead in the service lines, but want to educate the public on what they can do within their own homes to prevent lead poisoning.
The mayor mentioned how the campaign recommends what he called “common sense” and inexpensive ways for parents to deal with these issues.
The three steps to prevent lead in your home to protect your children are first, safely clean away paint flakes and dust in and around your house, the second is if the water hasn’t been used for several hours and it’s been sitting in the pipes, run the cold water tap for at least three minutes to bring in fresh water from the city water main. Make sure you use cold water for drinking and cooking.
The third step is to have your children tested for lead three times before the age of three.
“Following these simple steps will make the biggest impact and will give each child a head start,” said Bevan Baker, City of Milwaukee Health Commissioner. The campaign will have a presence on buses, the internet and brochures will be distributed throughout the community.
“The cornerstone of the Public Health Department is to prevent disease before it happens and that’s what this campaign is about,” Baker said.