October 28, 2021
Elizabeth Goodsitt, 608-266-1683
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683

Every Child in Wisconsin Deserves a Healthy Start in Life That is Free from Exposure to Lead

October 24-30 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

Deteriorating lead-based paint, especially in homes built before 1978, is the main source of lead exposure in Wisconsin. It is estimated that in Wisconsin there are more than 350,000 older homes with lead paint. Leaded dust from this paint can get on toys, fingers, and other objects that any child may put in their mouths and ingest. This exposure can impact how children’s brains develop and can lead to behavioral and developmental disabilities. 

Lead contamination in drinking water can occur in houses that have historic lead plumbing and/or lead service lines. There are an estimated 200,000 service lines of lead pipes in our public water systems today.

Milwaukee and Racine, the areas of the state with the highest populations of Black residents, also have the highest rates of childhood lead levels, a health disparity that cannot be overlooked. These racial disparities are the result of decades of systematic racism and discriminatory housing policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Policies such a redlining, allowed lenders to deny housing, mortgage loans, and other infrastructure funding in areas considered “high risk”—a label which was largely applied to Black and other minority neighborhoods. This policy—which was legal until the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968—left many communities of color concentrated in underinvested and poorly maintained structures. And as a result, in 2021, the data shows us that children of color are often more exposed to lead and other environmental health hazards. 

Since 1996, more than 227,500 children in Wisconsin were found to have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. In 2019, 3,111 children under the age of six were found to have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. This means that approximately nine children in Wisconsin were poisoned each day in 2019.

Lead poisoning is completely preventable. Wisconsin needs a strong investment in proven strategies at the state and local level to remove all sources of lead from our environments, including lead-based paint and lead service lines. 

Preventing lead poisoning is a priority for Governor Tony Evers. Executive Order Number 36, signed in July, 2019, directed all state agencies, including DHS, to use their expertise to prevent lead poisoning, and called on DHS to appoint a person to coordinate the response to the effort. In 2020, Brian Weaver was chosen as the state’s Lead Policy Advisor and is working with partners and stakeholders to fulfill this important mission. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is committed to leading Wisconsin’s response and working with local health departments, community organizations, and other partners to eliminate sources of lead exposure. DHS manages the state’s lead certification program for renovators and removes sources of lead in older homes such as windows, doors and paint via the Lead-Safe Homes Program. Both homeowners and landlords are encouraged to apply for the statewide program.  

DHS supports children and families through the childhood lead poisoning prevention program that works to increase blood lead testing and to connect all lead poisoned children to services and by testing for lead in drinking water at child care facilities. A blood test is the best and most readily available way to determine if a child has been exposed to lead. Families are encouraged to talk to their health care provider to have kids under the age of six tested. Also, removing lead service lines is one way to minimize the potential for lead to get into your drinking water. The Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission provides options for funding the replacement of private lead service lines.

Additionally, because training and certification are required by law before anyone can offer or conduct regulated lead-based paint activities on pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, DHS offers lead training and certification. Contractors who get trained and certified protect their own health, but also the health of others, and show potential customers that they are responsible and care about their community. 

We can all work together to make homes safe for all children. Eliminating lead in our homes and drinking water will ensure that all Wisconsin children have a healthy start to life, and the benefits will be seen for generations to come.

Paula Tran, MPH
State Health Officer
Division of Public Health
Wisconsin Department of Health Services

How often and when to test? Where you live matters.
DHS recommends universal testing for children living in Milwaukee or Racine due to the high proportion of old, potentially hazardous housing in those communities. Those children should be tested at least three times before age three—at one year, 18 months, and two years. All children ages three to five years should be tested annually if they meet at least one of the following criteria: they live in a home built before 1950, or one built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovations; they have a sibling or playmate with lead poisoning; they are enrolled in Medicaid or the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program, or are uninsured; or they have no record of a prior test.