Lead Contamination in the “Rust Belt”: Wisconsin

Wisconsin, United States (RustBelt) – Since news broke of the lead crisis in Flint, MI, many Americans have wondered if their water is safe. Lead contamination is affecting areas of the U.S., both rural and metropolitan alike.

In this article, we will be focusing on the State of Wisconsin including but not limited to the Greater Milwaukee area, Madison and Green Bay.

Section 1:  The Greater Milwaukee Area

The Greater Milwaukee area is the largest metropolitan area in Wisconsin, housing just under 1.6 million people. In Milwaukee County we have seen areas testing positive for lead, with a higher ppm (parts per million) than that of Flint, MI.

While the state average frequency of children under 6 testing positive for lead is 4.15 per 100, Milwaukee proper is seeing an average of over 10 children per hundred. State wide white children make up the majority of children , but black children are testing positive for lead over 3x more often then their white counterparts. Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services


(Map of Milwaukee and the contaminated areas. Source – Milwaukee Water Works via Hispanic News Network USA)

Many of the the affected areas in Milwaukee are traditionally Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. These are older sections of town that the city tends to neglect overall. Whether it is decimated roads, abandoned and unsafe homes, empty lots full of trash or other public works the City of Milwaukee seems more focused on improving the Downtown and Lakefront sections of town.

(Pie graph breaking down testing by race versus lead poisoning by race in Wisconsin. Source – Wisconsin DHS)

Section 2: Racine and Kenosha counties

While Racine County is included in the Greater Milwaukee area, Kenosha County is actually concerted part of the Chicago Metro area, “Chicagoland”.

Kenosha County is averaging roughly 4.5 children per 100 testing positive for lead. Children under 1 years old in Kenosha are actually testing higher than for lead than children in Milwaukee of the same age.

(Map of Wisconsin showing the areas of childhood lead poisoning statewide. Source – Wisconsin DHS)

Section 3: Madison, WI

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and is located in Dane County. Known more for the Wisconsin Badgers than anything else, Madison is not exempt from lead issues.

The average rate of lead poisoning in Madison is much lower than that of Milwaukee or Kenosha, sitting at about 1.5 per 100. While this is a “better” percentage, any children testing positive for lead is not excusable.

Section 4: The Green Bay Metropolitan Area

With a population of about 300,000, the Green Bay Metro area covers Brown, Kewanee and Oconto counties. Testing in these counties was low, but Oconto county tested higher than Kewanee or Brown counties.

Brown County is home to Green Bay proper. The amount of children that tested positive for lead in Brown County was lower than that of other areas in Wisconsin. The highest frequency of children testing positive for lead was that of children aged 3 to 5 years. The average for this demographic was 3.9 per 100.

Section 5: Other Notable areas 

Fond Du Lac County has a population of about 102,000. With an average test rate of 4.4 per 100 children, it is a high contamination area within the state.

Oshkosh, WI is located in Winnebago County. With a total population of just under 170,000 people, Winnebago County has an average test rate of 3.3 per 100.

Appleton, WI is a city with a population of about 75,000 people. Testing was done on a local level by the Appleton City Health Department. The most disturbing numbers from Appleton is that of children under 1 testing positive for lead. With a state average of 1.9 per 100 for this age group, Appleton tested at 4.5 per 100 for the same demographic.

Section 6: Conclusion

Wisconsin is suffering state wide with water contamination, lead in particular. There are areas, mainly in Milwaukee, that are testing higher than Flint, MI.

This is not an issue just located to Michigan and Wisconsin. It is nationwide, with a heavy concentration here in the “Rust Belt.” Lead poisoning leads to a number of irreparable heath issues such as, a lowered IQ, stunted growth and can even effect the sperm and egg cells respectively in men and women.

If we do not address this issue soon, we will do irreversible damage to our youth and future generations.

(Population totals from Wikipedia.org)

(Lead testing numbers and totals from Wisconsin DHS 2015 report)

This report prepared by Jaimes Campbell for The Rust Belt Tribune.