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Lead in Water at Day Cares: Who's at Risk and What Can you Do?

CBS 58— Thousands of kids in Milwaukee attend day cares with lead service lines and while the city works to fix the problem, there are things you can do to keep your children safe.

Buildings constructed before 1951 typically have lead service lines delivering water to the pipes. In Milwaukee there are 70,000 buildings with lead lines, including 385 day cares.

It’s a problem the city is open about. Earlier this month Mayor Tom Barrett urged anyone with these lead lines to use a filter. Barrett’s proposed 2017 budget designates millions of dollars to to replace the lines at day cares.

CBS 58 spoke with a day care on the north side that has lead lines. The owner did not want to be named.

“We drink water maybe twice a day, so they use the water,” said the day care’s owner.

Earlier this year that owner got a letter from the city saying her water could be contaminated with lead-, a neurotoxin especially harmful to kids because it stunts development.

“I was a little bit alarmed,” the owner said.

Lead isn't found in Milwaukee's water source, but can get in through (lead service lines, which connect water mains to homes or buildings.

Dr. David Garman, the Founding Dean School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, says the city tries to minimize the risk by adding phosphate, which coats the inside of the lines to prevent the lead from dissolving.

“This doesn't mean to say that it solves the problem completely because under certain circumstances, lead can still be released and lead, particularly if its stored for a long time or if there's a slight change in water quality treatment and that can lead to a lead build up,” Dr. Garman said.

The only guaranteed solution is to remove lead lines, something the mayor wants to tackle in the next city budget.

“We will use $5.2 million in 2016 and 2017 to remove lead lines at 385 licensed day care facilities,” Mayor Barrett pledged when he announced his proposed budget.

But it's not a project that will happen overnight and experts say people should take action now.

“If you've drank that water all these years and haven't seen a problem, it doesn't mean you shouldn't stop that problem now and prevent it,” said Kirsten Shead, with Milwaukee Water Commons, a group working to ensure safe water in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Water Commons is working with other community to groups to get the word out about lead service lines.

“We want to see it go out in multiple ways, in multiple languages and in ways people can know here's the problem, here's the risk, and here's the solution,” Shead said.

Meanwhile people can take steps to minimize the risk.

“Consumers themselves can do little things such as the flushing, such as installing filters,” Dr. Garman said.

Some day cares with lead lines already use a filtration system, like Cady's Kids.

“It [our filter] uses water out of the sink but it filters it,” said Jessica Cady, who owns the day care. “And that's what we use for drinking water.”

But Cady knows not all child care providers can afford filters and wants to see lead lines replaced quickly.

“I would say that it should be top priority being that drinking water should be a basic right especially for children,” Cady said.

Over at the north side day care, the owner says she had parents get their kids tested for lead, and so far all the kids are ok. A lead test is now a requirement on the enrollment forms.

Mayor Barrett's budget proposal still needs to be approved by the full council before the money to fix the lines is secured.

Meanwhile if you want to know if your home or day care has lead service lines, the city has a list online. Click here to see if your address is on it.

The city also has a list of recommended filters, which you can find here.

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