By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
As we close out September, I wanted to bring attention to Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Like almost every other major health indicator, black infants die at nearly three times the rate of white infants!
Infant mortality is always tragic and often preventable. Leading causes of infant mortality are birth defects, premature birth, complications of pregnancy and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Now, it looks like there may be another environmental factor you can add to that list: lead.
There are several different sources of lead poisoning. Lead paint poisoning is the most common. Because children’s brains are still developing, they are the most susceptible to lead poisoning.
Lead paint is the leading concern for children, who touch things and frequently put their fingers and other painted objects in their mouths.
That is why children should be monitored in old homes with paint dating back to 1978 and while playing with old toys.
Soil contamination is also a major concern. Vehicle exhaust, dust from lead paint and trash, including items such as batteries or jewelry, all poison our soil. That’s the same soil we garden with, walk on and sometimes grow our food in.
Lead pipes that transport drinking water is the newest concern in this chain of lead poisoning.
Milwaukee’s Lead Pipes
Robert Miranda recently highlighted the connection between lead poisoning and infant mortality.
A study by Werner Troesken compared major US cities that use lead pipes to deliver water to cities that do not. The study showed cities with lead water pipes (like Milwaukee) had higher infant mortality and stillbirth rates.
With about 70,000 lead lateral pipes and an infant mortality rate that’s approximately 33 percent higher than the national average, it’s reasonable to wonder if our lead pipes have been killing our children.
Testing matters. In 2014, 8.6 percent of tested Milwaukee children had unsafe levels of lead in their blood. That doesn’t count the more than half of our kids that were never tested. Those numbers don’t sit well with me.
What are we doing to test the other children? And what are we doing to decrease lead in the blood of those children who tested too high?
Builders stopped using lead pipes to deliver water decades ago. Yet those pipes continue to carry water into older homes, which means our children are still at risk.
While Milwaukee is making progress to reduce lead poisoning from lead paint, we must attack lead from all sources, including water and soil. Failing to act is not an option.
But lead isn’t just impacting infants. The effects of lead poisoning n brain development can change a person’s life forever.
Those who survive childhood lead poisoning can develop brain damage or impulse control problems that may lead to incarceration.
Milwaukee has the most number of lead pipe laterals in the state. We also fill more than half of Lincoln Hills, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections facility, with youth from Milwaukee. Is there a correlation? That’s what I want to know.
That’s why this week, I renewed my request to have every single child incarcerated at Lincoln Hills tested for lead poisoning. Study after study shows a connection between lead poisoning and crime. Add the link between lead poisoning and infant mortality and it is easy to see why it is so important to get the lead out.
That’s why I’m advocating for community connectors. These are people who can go door-to-door to educate new parents on infant mortality, educate homeowners with lead pipes on how to protect their families and work to stop the damage caused by lead before it ends up putting children behind bars.