Milwaukee families worry about lead levels in household water supplies


MILWAUKEE – Families in Milwaukee are grappling with a problem you can’t see, smell or taste. It’s lead. In more than 70,000 homes, it comes from service lines.

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Daisy Hill (left) and Melvin Echols talk about the lead pipes connected to their apartment building as Echols’ daughter plays in front of them.

“We don’t drink tap water. We don’t drink tap water at all. We buy water, ”said Melvin Echols, who lives near 1st and Center streets.

“I won’t drink the water. I don’t want lead in my body, ”said Daisy Hill, who lives in the same apartment building as Melvin.

They are two of more than 70,000 families connected to a lead service pipe in the city.

Milwaukee City Main Service Line Graphic

City of Milwaukee Department of Health (graphic)

When water is pumped out of Lake Michigan, it flows through main water lines and eventually into a service line that connects to a house. In houses built before 1951, these service lines are probably lead. When the water is in the pipe, it takes on lead.

“I don’t even want to shower with it, but I have no choice,” Hill said.

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Melvin Echols’ daughter was tested for lead exposure from the service pipes that go to their home.

Melvin has a 5 year old daughter and is very concerned about her lead exposure. Doctors say that even at low levels, exposure to lead can lead to brain damage in babies and toddlers. In the long run, this can lead to behavioral issues, learning issues, and long-term health issues. This is why the city’s health department is testing children for lead in their blood.

“She has been tested for lead, but she has no lead,” Echols said.

But there are a lot of families in Milwaukee who have children struggling with lead exposures.

Milwaukee Children Under Six Exposed to Lead:

  • 7.5% – All Children of Milwaukee
  • 16% – Children in District 15

In 2019, 7.5% of children under six in Milwaukee tested positive for high levels of lead in their blood. In the 15th Aldermanic District, between 7th and 51st Streets and Locust Avenue and Wisconsin, 16 percent of young children have tested positive for high levels of lead.

This is why Echols says that even if they don’t drink the water, the health department says they should continue to test her daughter for exposure.

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Melvin Echols and his daughter

“They just recommend continuing to test, just in case,” Echols said.

The city offers free water filters to homes with lead pipes. You can find out if the qualities of your house here by searching for your address.

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