A Comparison of Lead Levels in the Drinking Water between Milwaukee and Oak Creek


Beth Poulter and Doreen Renk



Water is a very important part of our everyday lives. We tested the water in the City of Milwaukee and the City of Oak Creek. Our hypothesis was that there would be lead in the City of Milwaukee’s water. Milwaukee water lines were put in during the 1800’s and were made of lead, a common practice because lead does not rust. In the City of Oak Creek we thought there would be no lead found because the City of Oak Creek is a newer community, and the growing awareness of lead poisoning would sway builders from using lead pipes for their water. Our finding was that there was no lead found in either city’s water.

Key words:  pollutant, solder, flux, ppb (parts per billion)


Our health and well being depends on clean fresh water.  Unfortunately, throughout history the fresh water supplies around the world have been contaminated due to human development, industry, ignorance and greed.  One of the most dangerous contaminants to humans is lead, a soft, dense, bluish-gray metal.  Lead had been a widely used metal dating back thousands of years (Hernberg, 2000) and was used for industrial, medicinal and domestic purposes.  Due to its soft nature, lead has a low melting point.   Another characteristic of lead is its sweet taste.  The Romans used lead acetate, or lead sugar to enhance the flavor of wines and ciders (Hernberg 2000).  Historians have discovered evidence of lead poisoning in the remains of the Romans in archeological finds. Lead poisoning has been attributed to health issues from stomach troubles to severe brain damage. In some cases cardiovascular disease and hypertension have been a result of lead exposure in adults (Navas-Acien et al 2006).  The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) states that the effects of lead poisoning are more detrimental for children under the age of six years of age because of their brain development (EPA 2011).  

Lead’s durability, pliability and the fact that it does not rust (Helmenstine 2011) makes it ideal for working with especially for plumbing pipes.   The exposure to lead from the consumption of water in children is 10-20% and higher still for infants that are fed formula, ranging from 40-60 %(Rabin 2008).  Although many of the lead pipes that were used for plumbing have been replaced, lead can still be found in solder and flux that are used to seal fittings as well as some brass fixtures. 
                 The Environmental Protection Agency only began regulating lead levels in tap water in 1991(Renner 2010).  The regulation is called the Lead Copper Rule which states that if lead concentration levels exceed 15ppb or copper levels exceed 1.3 ppb in the tap water of more than 10% of customers, then steps need to be taken to protect the health of the customers (EPA 2011).  These steps include replacing the lead pipes.  Unfortunately disturbing the plumbing may cause lead dust which is just as dangerous to breathe. 

Our experiment was done to test and compare the lead levels in the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the City of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Our hypothesis was that there would be lead present in the drinking water of the City of Milwaukee and none in the City of Oak Creek because the buildings in Milwaukee are much older than in those in the city Oak Creek.  If our hypothesis is supported than we will see lead in the City of Milwaukee’s drinking water and no lead present in Oak Creek’s drinking water.  


Methods and Materials:

We used 19 test tubes, 10 ml in size, and an Abotex premium lead test kit; the test kit included cotton swabs a 3ml test tube, an indicator solution vial, and an instruction manual, (www.leadinspector.com).  Nineteen samples were collected, ten from the city of Milwaukee and nine from the city of Oak Creek. All samples were taken from sources designated for drinking water.  Due to our schedules, the samples were taken at various times of day throughout a period of a week.  Each water sample was put into a 10ml test tube and closed tightly.  The test tubes were labeled as to where we took the water from.   Each sample from the city of Milwaukee was poured into the 3ml test tube provided by the kit, one at a time. Per the manual, we put the swab into the lead testing reagent and then into the test tube of drinking water. The manual instructed us to wait 30 seconds. We shook the tubes to make sure the solution was mixed into the water.  The samples from the Oak Creek sites were done at a different time.  When testing these samples, we dipped the cotton swab into the reagent and then placed the swab in the test tubes.  Again, these tubes were shaken and after 30 seconds we looked for the color change. 

The following is the results legend given on the Abotex lead testing kit.  The results of the test are shown as a color change observed on the white cotton swab. 

Faint Yellowish Tint:       1-3 ppm

Light Brown:                    5 ppm

Medium Brown:              10 ppm

Dark Brown:                      25 ppm

Black:                                Over 50 ppm

(ppm) parts per million

The following is a list of sites that we took drinking water from:

The Ten Milwaukee City sites were:



     Build Date

Central Library

814 W. Wisconsin Ave.


Capital Library

3969 N. 74th St.


Center Library

2727 W. Fond du Lac


Mobil Gas Station

605 S. 1st St.


Mc Donald’s Restaurant

617 W. Oklahoma Ave.


Mc Donald’s Restaurant

2612 W. Morgan Ave.


Public Museum

800 W. Wells


Alverno College

3400 S. 43rd St.



3073 S. Chase Ave.


U.S. Post Office

345 W. St. Paul Ave.


Nine Oak Creek Sites:




Brian's Restaurant

924 E. Rawson Ave.



8151 S. Howell Ave.



8667 S. Howell Ave.



8880 S. Howell Ave.


Oak Creek Treefort

9555 S. Howell Ave.


Mc Donald’s Restaurant

8860 S. Howell Ave.


Perkin's Restaurant

2010 W. Ryan Rd.


Oak Creek High School

340 E.Puetz Rd.


KinderCare Learning Center

7677 S. Howell Ave.




All 19 test tubes were negative for lead.No color change was seen on any of the cotton swabs.  We did not include a graph in our report because all of our data showed no lead in the water. 


Since our results for all samples were negative we concluded that there was no lead in the City of Milwaukee’s drinking water or the City of Oak Creek’s drinking water. The drinking water standards and health advisories listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list the allowance of lead in drinking water as zero mg/L (EPA, 2011).  We were pleased with the results we found because of the health implications of lead poisoning.  The quality of our drinking water is important to our health and well being.

In the future we would try residential home because the water is used less than businesses. The best time to do the test would be in the morning, because the leaching would be more prevalent in the morning.













Literature Cited

EPA.  (2011).  Drinking Water Standards and Health Advisories. Retrieved October 13, 2011 from



EPA. (2011).  Lead and Copper Rule. Laws and  Regulations.  Retrieved November 7, 2011 from                http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/lcr/index.cfm


Helmenstine Ph. D, A. M. (2010). Lead Facts. Chemical and Physical Properties.  Retrieved November 7, 2011 from http://chemistry.about.com/od/elementfacts/a/lead.htm


Hernberg MD., PhD., S. 2000. Lead Poisoning in a Historical Perspective. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 38. 244-254.


Navas-Acien, A., Guallar, E., Silbergeld, E. K., Rothenberg, S. J. (2007).Lead Exposure and Cardiovascular                 Disease- A Systematic Review. Environ Health Perspective. 115 (3). 472- 482. doi 10.1289/ehp.9785

Renner, R.  (2010). Reaction to the Solution.Environmental Health Perspectives. 118 (5) 202-208.

Retrieved October 13, 2011. From


Rabin, R. (2008).  The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes “A Modest Campaign”.  American Journal of Public      Health 98(9) Retrieved October 13, 2011