Addressing water worries: Milwaukee officials announce new partnership to get filters into homes

MILWAUKEE -- A partnership was announced Monday, November 7th between A.O. Smith Corporation, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the City of Milwaukee's Health Department to provide Aquasana-branded water filtration products to city residents living in homes with lead service lines.

"We have an opportunity to have immediate action," said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way in the statement.

Bevan Baker, City of Milwaukee health commissioner

"We have to address lead hazards from all points," said Bevan Baker, City of Milwaukee health commissioner.

According to a statement announcing this partnership, the two products offered through the program, the Aquasana Claryum countertop unit and the Claryum “Clean Water Machine” powered water filtration pitcher, are NSF-certified to remove more than 99 percent of lead from drinking water as well as more than 65 other potentially harmful contaminants including heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, cysts, and organic pollutants such as pesticides.

The City of Milwaukee Health Department will coordinate the distribution of the filtration products and replacement filters as well as who qualifies for them in partnership with Social Development Commission (SDC) and Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers -- on November 29th and 30th.

The program will focus on households with pregnant women and/or children under the age of six.

"We especially want to reach bottle-fed infants. That`s a key public health concern and we want to reach families where there is a pregnant or nursing mother there and any children under the age of six living in that home," said Baker.

“Thanks to donations from thousands of community members, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County was able to deploy unrestricted funds almost immediately, which laid the foundation for what is now a total of $90,000, all going towards the purchase of filter systems and replacement filters,” said Angresano in the statement.

According to city officials, while Milwaukee treats its drinking water to reduce the risk of lead exposure, and Milwaukee water continues to meet EPA testing guidelines, public health recommendations for residents in homes with lead service lines and young children or pregnant women in the home include the use of a water filter certified to remove lead.

“The City of Milwaukee has aggressively worked to reduce children’s exposure to lead hazards and can report we are seeing the lowest levels on record,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in the statement. “As we work to drive down rates even further by minimizing exposure to all lead hazards, I thank A. O. Smith and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County for their partnership in providing an additional layer of protection against lead hazards for our most vulnerable residents.”

“We applaud Mayor Barrett for his proactive stance and concern for Milwaukee residents,” Ajita G. Rajendra, chairman and chief executive officer of A. O. Smith Corporation said in the statement.  “A. O. Smith and Aquasana are pleased to be in a position to support the city, United Way, and the health system members of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership in response to this critical health issue.”

“In addition to removing harmful lead from residents’ water, we chose the countertop unit and the Clean Water Machine for their ease of installation and use,” Rajendra said in the statement.  “The countertop unit attaches to the faucet in one easy step, and the Clean Water Machine is a powered countertop unit that simply plugs into a standard outlet to deliver clean and healthy drinking water.”

According to city officials, the City of Milwaukee Health Department received the initial delivery of countertop and powered units and will be coordinating distribution.

The initial purchase also included replacement filters for both products.

A.O. Smith and Aquasana officials on Monday also announced a special discount program for residents of the Greater Milwaukee area who do not qualify for the mayor's program and wish to purchase Aquasana water filtration systems to remove lead from their drinking water.

A significant discount will be available through the end of 2016 to residents who purchase Aquasana water filters online at using the password “Milwaukee.”

Aquasana also is offering replacement filters at a special discounted price, which includes extended warranties and free shipping through its “water for life” program.

In addition to A. O. Smith, the partnership is being underwritten by grants from United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and the health system members of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership:  Aurora Health Care; Ascension Wisconsin; Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin; and Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Austin-based Aquasana, which was acquired by A. O. Smith in August, handled a similar water purification product program in Flint, Michigan earlier this year.

City of Milwaukee officials said there is a long-term solution and budget in place to get the lead hazards out of the ground.

"There's $150,000 additional for filters and $11 million in the budget that deals with infrastructure. We made daycare centers our top priority," Baker said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about lead and drinking water in Milwaukee -- and to see whether your home has lead service lines.

Monitor FOX6 News and for updates on this developing story.