By Mrinal Gokhale

Dr. Jeanne Hewitt details the health hazards of drinking lead contaminated water (Photo by Mrinal Gokhale)

The Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter and city leaders gathered on March 22, also known as World Water Day, to discuss the ongoing problem of lead lateral pipes in the Milwaukee area. Bill Davis, director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter organized the news conference which began at 12 p.m. in City Hall.

Dr. Jeanne Hewitt works with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Center. She detailed the dangers of drinking water contaminated with lead as well pharmaceuticals, nitrate, certain bacteria and other chemicals.

“Lead in fetuses and young kids has an impact on their cognitive development and can lead to decreased IQs,” Dr. Hewitt explained. “The CDC blood lead level of concern is now deemed five micrograms per deciliter. Before, it was ten [micrograms per deciliter].”

Bill Davis, director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter (Photo by Mrinal Gokhale)

She added that lead poisoning can also cause low birth weights, adverse reproductive effects in men and women, depression and various behavioral problems, including criminal behavior. Brain damage caused by lead poisoning is almost impossible to reverse.

George Olufosoye, southeast organizer with the League of Conservation Voters, said he has been a Milwaukee resident for 15 years and understands how important clean water is.

“I will be lobbying at the state capitol with 400 [League of Conservation] members on March 29 to petition for a bill that helps families replace lead laterals,” he said. “We think local municipalities should raise funds or have a loan program to replace laterals.”

He added that over 200,000 children have tested positive for lead poisoning between the 1960s and 2014, and he feels that the public health department should advocate for testing water.

George Olufosoye, southeast organizer with the League of Conservation Voters (Photo by Mrinal Gokhale)

Alderman Jim Bohl and Alderman Nik Kovac who serve on the Milwaukee Common Council also spoke, and are happy to work with the Sierra Club Wisconsin chapter.

“When we discuss the importance of water safety and quality, we are talking about the very basic measure of life,” said Ald. Bohl. “We aren’t seeing the right leadership at the national or state level to deal with these needs from a human, environmental and ecological standpoint.”

Alderman Nik Kovac said that he feels that improving water quality in Milwaukee rivers by government action is a step in the right direction.

“The state and county and Milwaukee Sewerage District got approval on removing the Estabrook Dam, which will significantly increase water quality in the Milwaukee River,” he said. “The sewerage district is also working on the Kinnickinnic and Milwaukee Rivers.”

Tim Ehlinger, professor at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Nursing School, spoke last. He introduced himself as a biologist who has studied water for a long time, and believes water should be more of a “basic human right.”

“The reason we can’t deal with challenges facing our water is because of the significant problem of our government system,” Ehlinger said.

“Wisconsin residents should have clean, affordable water for personal use. We should also establish a transparent, effective government system based on science.”

The Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter has released a “blue paper” on policy recommendations that address Wisconsin’s water problems, which can be found at www.sierraclub.org/Wisconsin.