MILWAUKEE — The public is being asked to weigh in on new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding lead and copper in drinking water.
The proposed rules include requiring testing the water at all schools and daycare centers, and making that information available to the public; lowering the lead and copper trigger level from 15 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion; and requiring local water systems to notify customers within 24 hours when water samples contain more than 15 parts per billion.
The EPA will be accepting public comments online the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Those interested in commenting can go online to regulations.gov and search for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the proposed rule changes in Green Bay on Thursday and on Friday attended a roundtable event with U.S. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., at Discovery World in Milwaukee.
Wheeler said water system officials in Wisconsin have been aggressive in testing water for lead
“I would say Wisconsin overall has really up to speed water systems that are doing a lot,” Wheeler said. “There’s a lot of great work going on here in Wisconsin.”
Also present at the roundtable were representatives from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, Milwaukee Health Department, and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
Wheeler and Steil also met with students from Renaissance School in Racine.
The EPA has also worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a website that aggregates the different federal funding options, for both grants and loans, which municipalities can take advantage of.
“What we want to do is make sure those communities that really need to have (pipe lines) upgraded first get access to those programs,” Wheeler said. “I know there’s concern that we should be upgrading everything all at once, to be honest the funding for that isn’t necessarily there. But the way we’ve developed the new regulation with the 10 parts per billion trigger is so we can focus on those communities that are most impacted.”
However, Wheeler said there is still a lot of work that needs to be done regarding testing.
Wheeler said the new rules proposal includes testing before the lead service line is replaced and after it is replaced.
“In talking to the water system (officials) here, they’ve actually had a problem with people, after the line has been replaced, wanting to do the testing and that data is very important,” Wheeler said. “There’s a lot of public education that needs to occur.”
Steil said to lower the number of children testing positive for high levels of lead it will take cooperation at all levels of government from the federal level down to the municipality.
“The rates are high in both Racine County and Rock County,” Steil said of children testing positive for lead poisoning. “The rate that we want to get it to is zero … we’ve made significant progress over the years but this is taking a step further.”
Steil visits southern border
Steil recently returned from a trip to El Paso, Texas and New Mexico to visit the U.S. southern border.
During his trip Steil talked with border patrol agents and visited a detention facility.
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“That’s where we saw previously some really tough humanitarian situations where Congress in a nonpartisan way stepped up and provided funding for those individuals,” Steil said. “It was an opportunity to see firsthand the impact of that funding.”
Steil voted in favor of a bill that provided $4.5 billion to prevent human and drug traffickers from entering the country, increase shelter capacity for unaccompanied children and upgrade operations at the border to respond to the influx of migrants crossing the border.
Although he didn’t speak to anyone that was in the detention facility, Steil said the facility was “well-run and well organized.”
“I got a chance to see the food being served,” Steil said. “The El Paso facility that I visited has the exact same food vendor that provides food to the U.S. military.”
Steil also visited two sections of the wall built in 2008 and 2009.
“I saw where that directly abutted a wall that was constructed in 2017,” Steil said.
Steil is in favor of a “physical barrier” on the southern border but at the moment does not think it needs to be built along the entire border.
“There’s some key sections identified by Homeland Security as to where we need to have a physical barrier in the short term,” Steil said. “From there we can continue to analyze where you go next, but there are some sections that are imperative that we act on to really assist border patrol to do their job.”
To assist the migrant situation on the border, Steil is advocating for increased staffing of border patrol agents.
As of Feb 2019, according to Steil’s office, the border patrol had only 19,443 agents working but the department is authorized to have up to 26,370 agents.
“Currently, border patrol is authorized to have significantly more individuals on staff than they currently do,” Steil said. “They’re below the necessary staffing levels they should have. But the men and women on the frontlines are doing solid work.”
But addressing those who come to the southern border is just part of the overall immigration issue.
Violence and poor economies in Central and South America have caused many individuals to try to make it to the United States for a better life.
“The United States is the greatest country on the planet so there’s always going to be a natural attraction where the United States is attracting people,” Steil said.
Steil said the U.S. should continue to stay engaged with countries in the “northern triangle” which made up of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
“There is an opportunity for the United States to engage in the northern triangle to try to work to stabilize those countries, to bring back security for the individuals who live there,” Steil said. “As well as continuing to engage economically so that there’s economic and job opportunities who live there.”
Steil added he is willing to look at all options to help the countries in the northern triangle.
“What is probably most relevant right now is to work with their government and assist them in their attempts to regain security in their countries before I would look at a U.S. military operation,” Steil said. “There is current ongoing U.S. foreign aid to those countries and I think that’s a key piece of the puzzle.”