By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Several years ago, Deanna Branch’s future looked grim. Doctors had told her she may never walk again, that she’d have to be put on dialysis, that she needed a voice box removed and more. But that is not where Branch’s story ends.
“I’m here,” Branch said. “I’m standing. I’m talking; I have my voice back. I’m breathing on my own and I’m able to share my story and Aiden’s story with the world.”
Branch is a local Milwaukeean. Over the years, she has become an advocate for the removal of lead pipes and paint following the health concerns of her son Aidan, who was hospitalized twice due to lead exposure.
She and Aidan wrote a children’s book that details the adventures of Super Aidan, the lead-free superhero, who teaches children about lead awareness and how to be healthy.
Branch shared her story with Vice President Kamala Harris, who was visiting Milwaukee with Michael Regan, the administer of Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, Jan. 24.
Harris was in Milwaukee to promote the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which is a part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. During their visit, Harris and Regan went to WRTP BIG STEP, 3841 W. Wisconsin Ave., to hear from locals and elected officials as well as meet some of the workers, who will be removing the lead pipes.
“The bottom line is that eliminating lead exposure in our nation must be among our nation’s highest priorities,” Harris said.
The goal is to remove and replace all the lead pipes over the next 10 years, Harris said. The plan will invest $15 billion nationally and Wisconsin will receive $48 million in 2022 for lead pipe removal.
There are over 70,000 lead pipes remaining in the City of Milwaukee with an estimated 4,000 having been removed.
These investments will create good union jobs, address the needs of children, result in good public health, the creation of more jobs and the infusion of support for apprenticeship programs, Harris said.
This is an issue about public health, education, environmental justice, labor unions and more, Harris said.
“All of these issues intersect around this issue of lead pipes,” she said. “And combined on top of that, as has been said, the moral imperative that we have to finally take this issue seriously. Not as a matter of concern, but as a matter of action.”
Everyone from infants to children to the elderly can be infected by the toxins found in lead pipes and paint, Harris said. Millions of people in America are exposed to lead every day, she said, citing the 10 million households and 400,000 schools and child care facilities that have lead.
In Wisconsin, over 170,000 homes, schools and businesses continue to use lead service lines, Harris said. Lead exposure can lead to increased blood pressure and decreased kidney function in adults, Harris said, in children it can cause irreparable damage to the body and brain.
This issue is especially prevalent in rural communities, poor communities and communities of color, she said.
Regan also made several remarks.
“It is a moral imperative for all of us, that no child and no family in this country is left to drink dirty water,” he said. “At EPA, we follow the science. And the science on lead is settled. There is no safe level of lead exposure, not for children, not for adults, not for anyone.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is committed to using every tool in its toolbox to remove lead, he said. Investing in water infrastructure is one of the best decisions that the nation can make, Regan said, as it pertains to public health, environmental protection, job creation and future economic vitality.
The cities most in need will receive the funding they deserve, Regan said.
“Our work is not complete until every child in America has access to clean, safe drinking water,” he said. “We will not rest until the job is done, and the job is done right.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Congresswoman Gwen Moore were also in attendance.
“This is an issue, that we should, as a nation, commit to ending,” Harris said. “The only solution here, is to get rid of lead in our pipes and our paint.”