Experts, and even some regulators, say existing laws are failing to protect Wisconsin and the nation from harmful exposure to lead in drinking water that leaches from aging plumbing — a danger illustrated by the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Nearly 4,000 children in Wisconsin were diagnosed with elevated levels of lead in their blood in 2014, though the number has fallen over the years thanks in part to bans on lead in paint and gasoline. Unlike in Flint, Michigan, however, no one knows how much lead in the drinking water contributes to elevated blood lead levels in Wisconsin. There are no requirements to test the drinking water when a child is lead poisoned.
Two former members of Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet say the administration has had a policy of communicating official business through private channels. The allegations come as the Walker administration faces criticism for cutting public access to internal text messages and other so-called transitory state records.
Decades of toxic waste disposal at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant — including pouring millions of gallons a day of polluted water into Lake Wisconsin — have contaminated some nearby residents’ drinking water and raised concerns about the long-term effects on their health. But help may be on the way.
In the early 1990s, Jim Goodman and his wife began to worry about how the chemicals they were using on the farm might affect their children. The fourth-generation Wisconsin farmer decided to make the shift away from conventional farming at his Sauk County operation. Now certified organic, the farm includes 120 head of cattle on pasture, including 45 milk cows, and 300 acres of crops.
Levels of nitrate, one of the Wisconsin’s top drinking water contaminants, are increasing. Nitrate comes primarily from fertilizers, including manure, and puts infants and expectant mothers particularly at risk. A projected 94,000 households are drinking private well water with unsafe levels of nitrate. And many of them don’t even know it since few private well owners conduct regular testing.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s Dee J. Hall received an award for reporting from her former employer, Lee Enterprises, on Thursday. The Lee President’s Award, the company’s highest journalistic honor, recognized Hall and Wisconsin State Journal Reporter Matthew DeFour for their investigation into a failed taxpayer-funded loan to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s top donors. The award, which was shared with State Journal Assistant City Editor Mark Pitsch, recognizes the “outstanding achievement in any aspect of print and online journalism, from reporting and writing to photography, video, graphics and presentation” in the past year among Lee’s 50 daily newspapers. The investigation involved Building Committee Inc. of Milwaukee whose owner, William Minahan, had given Walker $10,000 on Election Day in 2010. The investigation by Hall and DeFour found one of Walker’s top aides, Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, had pushed for a $4.3 million loan to the company, which was on the verge of collapse.
Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.