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Lead and Water

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Milwaukee's Program to Replace Lead Service Lines 

 

Milwaukee Water Works started systematically replacing lead service lines in 2017.

Milwaukee faces a variety of challenges in replacing the remaining 66,600 active residential lead service lines in the city, including limited available funding, contractor capacity, and supply chain issues. Federal funding through the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will bring an estimated $50 million a year to Wisconsin between 2023 and 2027, which is expected boost our effort to replace all lead service lines as quickly as possible.The total cost to replace all of Milwaukee's lead service lines is estimated at around $750 million, based on current costs. 

Milwaukee Code of Ordinances § 225-22.5 requires a full replacement of the lead service line, with copper, from the water main that runs under the street to the curb stop (city-owned) and from the curb stop to the meter (customer-owned) in the following situations.  

•    Child Care Facilities:  A licensed group child care center, a licensed family day care center, or a certified child care home.
•    Emergencies: When a leak or failure is found on either the customer-owned section or the city-owned section of the lead service line.
•    Certain construction projects: When the city-owned section is replaced for any reason, including water main replacement or road reconstruction projects.

Testing of a home's water supply for lead is available to prior to and following each lead service line replacement.


Who pays for the Lead Service Line (LSL) replacement when replacement is required by the City of Milwaukee Ordinance?

The total cost to replace a lead service line is about $10,200 (the average price fluctuates from year to year). The public side (from the water main to the curb) costs about $5100 and the private side (from the curb to the water meter inside a home) costs about $5100. 

For required LSL replacements:

  • A cost-share for the private side (the city pays 2/3, owner pays 1/3) is available for properties with 1-4 units, but only if the property owner elects to use a city-approved contractor to do the work.
  • Effective March 1, 2022, the cost-share paid by property owners for the private side is $1,723.
  • The owner can pay their cost-share as a special assessment over 10 years (about $170 per year). 
  • In addition to the city paying 2/3 of the private side cost, the Water Works pays 100% of the public side.

​​​​For voluntary, owner-initiated LSL replacements:

  • If a property owner decides to replace a lead service line when it is not required by ordinance, the owner must hire a licensed contractor.
  • The property owner pays 100% of the cost of the private side (currently about $5100).
  • The Water Works pays 100% of the public side (currently about $5100). 
     

When a lead service line replacement occurs:

Milwauke Water Works will provide: 1) instructions for how to propertly flush plumbing, and 2) a voucher for a filter pitcher and replacement cartridges to the customer(s) at a property. The filter is to be used for drinking and cooking water while construction work is ongoing, and up to 30 days after the project is completed.

Filters are also provided in the following situations:

  • A property with a lead service line is within the vicinity of a water main replacement, but is not directly connected to the section of main being replaced.
  • A Department of Public Works sewer replacement or street reconstruction is proximate to a property with a lead service line.

If a property has a lead service line, internal plumbing may also be made of lead. Property owners may want to hire a licensed plumber to replace their internal plumbing, in addition to replacing the lead service line.
 

There is no safe level of lead in the body. Click here to find out more about lead from the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Lead can be unsafe when it is swallowed or inhaled (often a result of lead paint commonly found in older homes).
  • Lead can affect learning, mental health, and increase the risk of diseases later in life.
  • Lead is especially dangerous to very young children.
  • Lead has been used to make many products including paint, pipes and plumbing materials, ceramics and cosmetics.
  • Lead paint presents the greatest risks for lead poisoning. 
    • "Lead based paint and household dust remain the primary sources of lead exposure for children in Wisconsin," quoted in Audit of the Milwaukee Health Department Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Public Health Foundation, March 2020 (Source: Christensen K, Coons M.J., Walsh R.O., Meiman J.G., Neary E. Childhood Lead Poisoning in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 2019 Apr;118(1):16-20.
    • "Lead-based paint, lead paint that contains house dust, and lead-contaminated soil are estimated to account for nearly 70% of elevated blood lead levels in U.S. children." (Source: Levin R, Brown MJ, Kashtock ME, et al. Lead exposures in U.S. children, 2008: Implications for prevention [published correction in Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(10):1291]. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(10):1285–1293.)
  • The Milwaukee Health Department will conduct an audit of any home where a child is shown to have lead in their blood, to determine risks from lead. Make sure your health care provider reports results of blood tests showing high levels of lead to the Milwaukee Health Department. More information about MHD's Lead Hazard Reduction Program is available here. Upon request, MHD will also test the water in any home where a child is found to have lead in their blood.

 

Lead service lines in Milwaukee are treated with a corrosion control method that prevents lead from leaching into your drinking water.

  • Lead can leach into water when the chemistry of the water causes lead pipes to corrode. This is what happened in Flint, Michigan.
  • Orthophosphate, a common food additive, prevents corrosion of Milwaukee's lead pipes. Milwaukee's water chemistry is ideal for anti-corrosion using orthophosphate.


Milwaukee Water Works has been adding orthophosphate to Milwaukee's water since 1996.


The image above shows a corroded pipe (center)
and one treated with orthophosphate (right).


 


Click here to read our corrosion control report presented to the Common Council on March 1, 2022. 

This image shows a Milwaukee lead service line
after removal with the protective orthophosphate 
barrier clearly visible inside the pipe.

Photo credit: Isaac Wasserman/Wisconsin Watch

Steps you can take to further reduce the risks from lead:


Households with lead service lines whose occupants include the following persons should drink and cook only with tap water filtered with an NSF 53 certified filter:

  • Children under age six, especially bottle-fed infants.
  • Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant (ages 15-45).
  • Women who are breastfeeding.

If you are not using a filter, drink and cook only with  water from your cold tap that has been flushed for at least three minutes. 

Recommendations for all who have a lead service line:

  • Drink and cook only with water from the cold water tap.
  • Run your cold for three minutes before drinking and cooking with it.
  • Regularly unscrew and rinse the screen, or aerator, on the end of each faucet. 
  • When there is ongoing construction in your area, such as water main replacement or other street and sewer projects, flush household plumbing at the end of each construction work day and when the project is completed. Find instructions here
  • Replace your lead service line and plumbing with copper.

 

Lead Service Line Replacement data:

# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2022* = 886
# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2021 = 985

# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2020 = 888
# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2019 = 1,000
# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2018 = 933
# of Lead Service Lines replaced in 2017 = 622

Total: 2017 - 2022 = 5,314
 *2022 figures reflect work completed as of 11/15/22

Check our records to see if a property has a lead service line

 

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions 

Water filters

Nutrition and health

Additional information

 

Click below for helpful documents that you can print at home:

Lead-Safe Water Guide brochure 

Guía del agua sin peligro de plomo

 

Milwaukee Water Works


Ask a Question -- Report a problem

Customer Service Center


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24-Hour Control Center

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  414-286-5452


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 Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N. Broadway, Room 406, Milwaukee, WI 53202


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A Sept 2017 EPA report quantified and compared contributions of lead from air, soil/dust, water and food to children's blood lead levels.

Children living in older homes with lead-based paint hazards by far have the most exposure to leadFor 1- to 6- year olds in the top 90-100 percentile, more than 70% of the lead in their blood was from soil and dust.

The contribution of lead from food was 20% and drinking water was 10%. For infants, soil and dust contribute to 50% of the lead in blood, while 40% was from water and 10% from food.

The EPA is evaluating approaches to setting a health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water. 

Together, Let's Get the Lead Out


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