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Home / Government / ‘We made it happen’: Green Bay Water Utility replaces city’s final lead pipe after years-long effort

‘We made it happen’: Green Bay Water Utility replaces city’s final lead pipe after years-long effort

A worker installs copper pipes to replace lead service lines in Green Bay.  (Ebony Cox / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

A worker installs copper pipes to replace lead service lines in Green Bay. (Ebony Cox / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Haley BeMiller
Green Bay Press-Gazette

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Water Utility on Tuesday removed its last lead pipe in the city, closing a chapter in a years-long endeavor to improve water quality for residents.

Officials announced the milestone at a news conference Tuesday before removing an east-side lead service line and replacing it with a copper pipe. That marked the 1,782nd utility-owned line replaced since January 2016, when the utility increased its lead removal amid the water-quality scandal in Flint, Michigan.

“Our (lead) levels are way down,” said Nancy Quirk, the utility’s general manager.

Green Bay last installed lead pipes in 1944 and began replacing them in 1990, when the city had 4,400. In 2011, the water utility found lead levels in drinking water in some homes were above the amounts allowed by limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and identified 1,782 utility-owned and 247 privately owned service lines that needed replacing.

Lead poisoning can cause brain damage and result in learning disabilities, developmental delays or reduced attention span, according to the state Department of Health Services. Children are the most vulnerable to those health risks.

Quirk said the utility has eliminated all but one privately owned lead pipe. The final line goes through a home that’s going through foreclosure and will be replaced once the property belongs to the bank.

The utility spent more than $6 million to replace the city’s remaining lead service lines, in part through the of use of two rate increases over a five-year period. The initiative also got a boost from the Lambeau Field tax credit and loans from the state Department of Natural Resources. Homeowners with lead lines were not required to pay for a replacement.

Quirk believed it was important to remove the source of the lead entirely instead of using a chemical treatment, which she feared could increase phosphorus levels in the Fox River. The utility also flushes the system to keep water clean and will monitor copper levels to ensure the new pipes don’t cause other troubles.

“We made it happen,” she said.

Email Haley BeMiller at hbemiller@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @haleybemiller.

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