Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Who Can Get a Free Lead Filter?

City departments offer maze of options to get a lead removal water filter. Who's eligible?

By - Apr 25th, 2019 01:38 pm
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MHD employee Jean Schultz highlights the different lead-safe water filters and products to a Common Council committee. Image from City Channel 25.

MHD employee Jean Schultz highlights the different lead-safe water filters and products to a Common Council committee. Image from City Channel 25.

The City of Milwaukee has given away over 5,000 filters designed to remove lead and other toxins from water since 2016. But how to get one of those free filters can be a bit of a mystery.

The Milwaukee Health Department provides filters to city residents that meet one of a number of criteria. Households in Milwaukee with bottle-fed infants are eligible, as are state licensed or certified child-care facilities. Households with children who have tested positive for blood lead levels in excess of 20 parts per billion are eligible, regardless of the source of the lead.

The biggest and most complex category is households with a lead service line, of which the city has more than 70,000. Those with a lead service line who meet one of the following conditions are eligible for a free filter: children under six years of age, children with blood lead levels greater than 5 parts per billion, pregnant women or women who may become pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The Milwaukee Health Department anticipates providing approximately 2,800 filtration devices this year from its $150,000 budget allocation. The department offers three different filters, all of which must be attached to the sink, according to program manager Jean Schultz.

For the first time, the department will also provide replacement cartridges as well. Households that have already received a filter are eligible for a replacement cartridge.

The replacement cartridges are important, as the filters often lose their effectiveness after six months said Schultz in a presentation to the Common Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee. She said the department provides a one-year supply of cartridges with any filter.

The department distributes filters through its own offices and partner organizations including the Social Development Commission, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Department of City Development, Habitat for Humanity, Milwaukee County WIC programs and the city’s Head Start program.

Schultz said filters will also be provided within Lead Safe Home kits that the department distributes.

According to Schultz, those seeking a filter should call 414-286-2165 to determine their eligibility and identify a nearby distribution site.

Construction Work Filters

The health department’s program is one of two programs the city offers. The Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) also provides water pitchers with embedded filters for short-term use.

MWW spokesperson Rosalind Rouse told the committee that it provides lead-safe pitchers in a handful of cases. The first is when a lead service line is being replaced. The city-owned entity recommends using a filter for at least 30 days following the replacement and directly provides a filter to the home. In Madison, which replaced all of its lead laterals, 51 percent of homes still tested positive for lead in their water.

A voucher for a filter, redeemable at a number of Water Works facilities, is provided when a planned or emergency water shutoff affects a property with a lead service line. A voucher is also provided to homes with lead service lines if the city or a contractor is about to rebuild the street or nearby sewer mains where disruption to lead service lines is possible.

The pitchers need a replacement cartridge after 30 days. Customers are eligible to pick up one replacement cartridge.

MWW’s program has been in place since 2017. It is funded by the entity’s operating and maintenance budget. Rouse said the department has negotiated a discount with Aquasana and Kohler to reduce the cost of the pitchers.

Those not eligible for the city programs can purchase a filter from a number of area retailers. Prices vary from approximately $30 for the pitchers to $400 for more extensive filtration systems.

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Related Legislation: File 181726

More about the Lead Crisis

Categories: City Hall, Health

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