MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Monday created a new position in state government to coordinate Wisconsin’s efforts at combatting lead in drinking water, the same day he joined with other Great Lakes governors to promote healthier water supplies.
Evers signed an executive order in Kenosha creating the lead pollution czar within the state Department of Health Services. No one was immediately named to the post.
Evers created the job the same day he and four other governors in the Great Lakes region urged candidates in next year’s presidential election to support a plan for safeguarding their shared waters by boosting federal spending on treatment plants and environmental cleanups.
Evers has declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water. While lead in Milwaukee’s water supply has gotten a lot of attention, Evers said every Wisconsin community is threatened.
“The Department of Health Services has identified lead-poisoned children in every single county in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “We know that it will take a collaborative effort to ensure that everyone is able to drink clean water from their tap.”
Under his order, all state agencies are being charged to work together with the new lead pollution czar to address what Evers is calling “Wisconsin’s lead crisis.”
Since 1996, more than 220,000 children across Wisconsin have been identified as having a dangerous amount of lead in their body, according to studies by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It is estimated that more than 176,000 lead service lines across the state are providing contaminated drinking water to homes and businesses.
Creating the new position won praise from environmentalists who have been pressuring policy makers to act on lead issues for years. Republicans who control the Legislature balked earlier this year at an Evers plan to spend $40 million to replace lead service lines, because they feared too much of the money would go toward Milwaukee.
“Unfortunately — and inaccurately — some politicians have used children’s health as a way to polarize voters,” said Wisconsin Conservation Voters executive director Kerry Schumann. “The truth is, lead exposure via drinking water is a serious problem in rural, suburban, and urban communities across the state.”
Schumann said creating the lead pollution coordinator will allow the state to begin addressing the problem in a comprehensive way.
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