City Faces Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Remove Lead Pipes

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Milwaukee – The City of Milwaukee alerted over 70,000 residential property owners that lead in their water has spiked, due to repairs to water main lead pipes which are causing the contaminated tap water with the toxic metal to rise to dangerous levels.

In order to find solutions to these spiking levels of lead in the water the Milwaukee Water Works has canceled 5 miles of water main replacement projects scheduled for this year.

The City faces over $500 million to remove all pipes delivering drinking water contaminated with lead.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that the projects are “on pause in a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The mayor said that “public works and health officials plan how they will work with property owners to remove the lead service laterals throughout the city”, according the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The mayor and other city officials said that Milwaukee treats Lake Michigan water to control corrosion of lead pipes and prevent contamination of drinking water. Tests of tap water required by federal drinking water regulations confirm city water is safe to drink, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Much of the concern comes from the fact that 70,000 lead laterals serving city residences built before 1951 are releasing lead in the water because of  cutting the lead pipe during main replacement, Health Commissioner Baker said.

That cutting and rattling of the pipes “has been found to contaminate drinking water and present a public health risk especially to vulnerable populations such as young children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis said 2016 main replacement projects were canceled in the pre-1951 neighborhoods after reviewing results of water tests done last year at homes where mains were replaced and then reconnected to the lead laterals.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the laterals when mains are replaced appears to break off enough lead particles to contaminate drinking water flowing into a residence, say city officials.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that estimates to repair the problem will cost about “$266 million based on estimate of $3,800 each; property owners would face a total tab of $245 million to $490 million due to varying lengths of privately owned sections and costs between $3,500 and $7,000 each; the total price would be $511 million to $756 million.”

The city reports that the Water Works has been in compliance with federal regulation, known as the lead and copper rule, since 1999.

Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause a wide variety of health problems, from stomach distress and increased blood pressure to brain damage, according to federal health and environmental officials.

Children 6 and younger are most susceptible to the toxic metal. Lead can cause lower IQ and behavioral problems in young children.

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