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Property owners needing to replace their lateral lead service pipes on their property can qualify for a loan through the Racine Water Utility, which is making $1.365 million in state funds available to residents through a forgivable loan program.

The utility estimates that about 9,200 Racine property owners need to replace their service pipes on their property. The loan program is through the State of Wisconsin and will help fund about 500 homeowners replace the pipes running from their home to the public right of way. Last year the city received $500,000.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long said there is no safe level of lead in the body,” said Sarah Clemons, Public Health Educator with the City of Racine Health Department. “….It poisons children and reduces their future potential.”

Now that additional funds are available, the city and officials with the Racine Water Utility are encouraging homeowners that have those pipes to consider participating in the program.

Water and Wastewater General Manager Keith Haas said removing those pipes is important because of the health hazards associated with drinking lead contaminated water.

“Lead is serious business,” he said. “According to the Centers for Disease Control even at low levels lead has been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. If you can avoid bringing it into your home or property, it seems like the smart thing to do.”

Health Risks Associated With Lead Poisoning

The risk of lead in drinking water spans dozens of communities across Wisconsin. Statewide, 4.5 percent of children tested were found to be lead poisoned in 2014, compared to the 4.9 percent of Flint children tested in 2015. Blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead mean the child has been lead poisoned.

The percentage of City of Racine children testing positive for lead poisoning is even higher over the past two years. In 2015, 212, or 9 percent, of the 2,323 children tested had high levels of lead in their blood. And in 2016, 177, or 7 percent, of the 2,495 children tested had high levels of lead in their blood. But lead poisoning can also come from lead-based paint, said officials with the City of Racine Health Department.

“Lead impacts the normal development of a child’s brain, resulting in intelligence quotient (IQ) loss, learning and behavior problems, developmental delays and lifelong mental and physical health issues, Clemons said.”

The City of Racine ranked fifth in the state for the percentage of children testing positive for lead poisoning in 2014. But with the state sending $500,000 to help homeowners pay for replacing 9,200 lead service pipes, replacing them all would cost homeowners $70 million and could take 45 years to complete the current state funding levels.

Why Replace Your Pipes?

Lead enters drinking water as a result of corrosion in lead pipes and in older household plumbing. To combat the problem, the city has treated the water with orthophosphate. The additive minimizes the corrosiveness of those pipes and this is why the city’s levels have been so low, Haas said.

Last year the city started replacing the homeowners’ lead pipes, but participation in the program has been low.

“If we are replacing pipes on your street, you can have the lead pipes leading to your house replaced at no cost to you. You won’t even see a bill.” Haas said.

This is the final year these loans will be available to municipalities, according to a press release by the City of Racine.

INVESTIGATION: Racine Ranks 5th In State For Lead Poisoning



Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.