Tag Archives: households

Menasha officials reject replacement plan for lead pipes

Menasha aldermen have rejected a proposal requiring homeowners to replace lead service lines on their properties at their own expense, saying it’s unacceptable.

Property owners could’ve paid between $800 and $2,500 to replace the lines, even though the city has received a $300,000 state grant to help reimburse property owners for some of the costs, The Post-Crescent reported.

Water utility manager Tim Gosz said the utility plans to pursue more grant funding for 2018.

Menasha Utilities officials estimate there are 1,200 to 1,500 lead service lines on private properties.

Lead service lines have been in the spotlight since scientists found Flint, Michigan, residents were exposed to elevated lead levels when the toxic metal leached into water from lead pipes.

Lead can be dangerous for children and expectant mothers, causing things like brain and kidney damage, increased blood pressure, deficits in attention span and hearing, and learning disabilities.

“I’d be concerned that this body only feels abatement is only important when grant dollars are involved,” said Alderman Marshall Spencer, who voted in favor of the plan. “I called it a good step forward but not a total solution before. The science is not debatable, it’s real.

“Anybody who doesn’t understand that, just spend a little time on Google and you’ll see a whole lot.”

The American Water Works Association said there are an estimated 6.1 million lead service lines across the nation.

 

Northern Wisconsin favors public oversight of water supply

An overwhelming majority of residents in northern Wisconsin support public sector oversight of drinking water resources, according to a poll conducted by the Center for Rural Communities at Northland College.

Public sector includes publicly owned utilities, as well as tribal water utilities and systems managed by local, state, tribal and federal governments.

About 640 households in Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties participated in the survey, conducted after state lawmakers considered but did not pass legislation to ease the process of privatizing municipal water utilities.

About 83.9 percent of those surveyed said the public sector should be responsible for guaranteeing access to safe drinking water.

About 90 percent said the public sector should notify people of any changes to water quality or water treatment.

“Nearly all respondents — 97 percent — agreed with the statement ‘water is a human right and every person should have access to clean and safe drinking water,’” said Brandon Hofstedt, associate professor of sustainable community development at Northland and faculty director at the center.

About 55.8 percent of those polled said a private entity should not profit from supplying drinking water to households.

Also, about 75 percent said a private entity should not be allowed to extract and sell water from Lake Superior or an aquifer or tributary.

Walker signs recycling bill, funding still short

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker April 27 signed legislation to increase recycling grant funding in the state, but the money is still short of where it was when Walker took office.

The governor, in a signing ceremony at J & S General Contracting in Osceola, signed AB 515, making it Act 392.

“I was happy to support it,” state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said of AB 515. However, she added, “We’re still grossly below what we were and even less than what we had last year.”

The legislation increases by $3 million the recycling grant funding provided to the state Department of Natural Resources for fiscal 2015-16. The DNR issues the grant money to local governments for efforts that “positively impact the day-to-day operations of local government recycling programs.”

The measure, passed with bipartisan support in the Assembly and the Senate, is intended to reduce the harm caused by a $4 million cut to the state recycling program in the 2015 budget bill.

“I wish it was substantially more,” Sargent said of the funding. “I wish we hadn’t slid backward.”

Meanwhile, environmental watchdogs report that recycling in the state has declined and they suggest a tie to funding cuts.

In its campaign to restore funding, the nonprofit Clean Wisconsin informed its membership that the $4 million cut to grants for municipalities resulted in cuts to curbside pickup, reduced hours at recycling drop-offs and higher service fees for residents.

“Combined with other cuts over the last five years, recycling fccleunding has been reduced a whopping 53 percent,” CW informed members, urging them to urge Walker to sign AB 515.

The DNR’s overall numbers show residential recycling at:

  • 423,661 tons in 2008.
  • 420,047 tons in 2010.
  • 396,653 tons in 2011.
  • 390,770 tons in 2012.
  • 412,874 tons in 2013.

From 2010 to 2011, money for the recycling grant funding program went from $32.1 million to $20 million under the Walker administration.

Other factors figure into recycling rates, including several positive trends: industries have reduced amounts of packaging materials, consumers have economized on the packaging they bring home, single-stream programs in some locations has made recycling easier, as has increasing pickups.

“I’ve never met a person who said we should recycle less,” said Sargent.

recycle
About 94 percent of Wisconsin households recycle, according to Clean Wisconsin, a statewide environmental group.

Did you know?

About 94 percent of Wisconsin households recycle, according to Clean Wisconsin, a statewide environmental group.

Recycling on the Web

Recycling information from the DNR.

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET: Costs, water pollution remain at closed Badger Army Ammunition Plant

Mary Jane Koch stopped drinking the water in her home 11 years ago, shortly after an industrial compound turned up in the well supplying drinking water to her home.

The source of the contamination: the now-closed Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

Badger was a military installation built in 1942 on more than 7,000 acres near Baraboo. The plant was owned and operated by the U.S. government to produce smokeless gunpowder for rockets, cannons and small arms used in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. It operated on and off for 33 years.

During its operation, the plant pumped excess chemicals and millions of gallons of wastewater into Lake Wisconsin and burned toxic substances in large pits on the site, leaving the soil, surface and groundwater contaminated with a dangerous stew of chemicals, including some known or likely to cause cancer.

Now, 400 monitoring wells dot the site, and the Army has spent $125 million cleaning up contaminated soil and water. While the land is being redeveloped for recreation, dairy research and tribal uses, the groundwater under the Badger site remains polluted.

The Army is working on a plan to install a water system for about 400 households to replace tainted groundwater as the source of drinking water in this scenic region about 30 miles northwest of Madison.

Long history of pollution

In 2004, Koch got a letter saying that concentrations of ethyl ether, a chemical used in production of smokeless gunpowder, had been detected in her well at 17 parts per million. The state groundwater enforcement standard is 1 part per million for ethyl ether, a little-studied chemical that can cause alcohol-like effects at high doses.

The Army delivered five-gallon jugs of water to her home the next day but discontinued the delivery two months later when tests showed no presence of ethyl ether.

To this day, Koch cooks with and drinks only bottled water at home. She does not trust the water from her well. Koch grew up near Badger and has seen the effects of the unchecked pollution firsthand. 

In 1961, when she was a teenager, Koch’s family bought a summer cottage — about a mile and a half north of her current home — across from the Badger plant on Lake Wisconsin.  She remembers the thick, sticky mud in the water.

“When we first moved in … we couldn’t swim out in front of the cottage,” she said. “We didn’t know what this muck was all about. I mean, it was like if you went down in it you were stuck.”

According to a 2006 article written by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, about 25 million gallons of wastewater per day was dumped into Gruber’s Grove Bay in Lake Wisconsin near the Koch cottage when Badger was in full production. That wastewater contained mercury and other metals. 

The Army eventually dredged Gruber’s Grove Bay in 2001 and again in 2006, pulling tens of thousands of pounds of copper, zinc and lead from the bay.

Tainted water, troubled mind

In 1977, Koch and her husband built a home north of the Prairie du Sac Dam on the Wisconsin River. They did not know about the extensive groundwater contamination from Badger. 

Koch read about the tainted water years later in the Sauk Prairie Star. It was 1990, and the Army reported dangerous chemicals had been detected in residential wells in a subdivision south of Badger near her home. The news brought her to tears.

Chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, probable human carcinogens, had been detected at levels that exceeded Wisconsin groundwater enforcement standards. The Army eventually replaced two wells in 1990 and one in 1996.

In 2004, the Kochs were notified by the Army that ethyl ether was detected in their well. She felt like her nightmare had begun all over again. Koch said at one public meeting held by the Army and the DNR about the groundwater cleanup at Badger, she posed the question: “Why were we ever allowed to build there if you guys knew about this?”

In addition, highly dangerous compounds including dinitrotoluene (DNT) and trichloroethylene (TCE) made their way into the groundwater.

Since well monitoring began at Badger in the early 1980s, varying levels of these chemicals have been detected in groundwater at the site and in private wells south and southeast of the site.

After years of clean up, environmental data produced for the Army in 2011 showed that levels of DNT, which can affect the central nervous system and blood; carbon tetrachloride, a probable human carcinogen; and TCE, a known carcinogen with a wide array of other harmful health effects, have diminished over time.

However, the latest environmental monitoring from November 2014 found that levels of all three contaminants continue to exceed Wisconsin groundwater enforcement standards in a number of wells on or near the Badger site.

Studies refute cancer concerns

Residents living near Badger have long been concerned about the cancer risks associated with exposure to contaminated groundwater used for drinking.

In response to those concerns, state health officials conducted a cancer rate review in 1990 and a follow up study in 1997. Both concluded that the rate of cancer in nearby neighborhoods was similar to other Wisconsin communities.

Koch is not reassured by these health assessments.

“The problem with some of the wells they’ve been testing is there will be three different chemicals that were found,” she said. “No one can give us an answer as to what kind of chemical cocktail that’s making.”

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger asked Will Myers, the state DNR team leader for environmental remediation at Badger, whether residents should continue to be concerned about pollution from the site. The environmental nonprofit, based in Merrimac, has pushed for monitoring and remediation at Badger for years.

Myers responded in writing that “for both soil and groundwater at Badger, the concentrations are low, there is very limited interaction between compounds, and the standards are very conservative.”

But state epidemiologist Dr. Henry Anderson said there is uncertainty — and no health standards — regarding the cumulative effect of multiple chemicals in the groundwater.

Koch has known a number of families living near Badger that have been affected by cancer.  It is this anecdotal evidence that connects the dots for her.

Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, also has asked regulators to set health advisory levels for products that result from the breakdown of the explosive compound DNT, 16 of which have been detected in the groundwater at Badger. Olah said some of the products can be more harmful than the original contaminant.

Olah is also concerned that additives such as 1,4-dioxane, a compound used to stabilize TCE, are not being monitored at the site. The DNR has said it does not monitor for the compound. The EPA found after a multi-year scientific review of the health risks that 1,4-dioxane “can cause cancer or increase the incidence of cancer when people are exposed to relatively low levels for extended periods of time.”

Clean water on the way?

Anderson said that given the concerns and uncertainties, state health officials believe the best course of action is to keep people from using water from residential wells near Badger.

The Army has proposed spending about $40 million to build a municipal drinking water system to serve some 400 nearby property owners and 150 undeveloped residential lots. The price tag includes the cost of operating the system for the first five years and 20 years of groundwater monitoring in and around Badger. Customers would pay for the operation after five years.

Town of Merrimac resident Gene Franks believes a new water system is the only way to guarantee residents’ drinking water will be safe.

“It seems to me to be a viable solution to having this gnawing doubt over the years that there might be some plume that might move into an area that no one ever expected,” Franks said. “This would give us that 100 percent assurance.”

Franks is co-founder of Citizens for Practical Water Solutions, which pushed for formation of the new system. The group’s other founder, Roger Heidenreich, said many residents support the project — but not all. Some whose private wells are not tainted do not want to pay for water from a public water system — especially one that could later need costly upgrades or repairs, Heidenreich said.

And although the Merrimac Town Board approved formation of the water district in May, the Army still must approve the funding, which would trigger another round of review and negotiation that could take up to a year.

Residents at a March meeting in Sauk City also expressed concern about the plan to reduce monitoring at Badger over the next 20 years, which would end in 2032 unless contaminants continue to be found.

In addition, the Army plans to stop extracting and treating groundwater at Badger in the next few years. In 2011, it reported removing just 18 pounds of contaminants after pumping and filtering millions of gallons of groundwater.

For Mary Jane Koch, the new water system offers some hope. But she said the notion that the groundwater at Badger is contaminated, and may be for years to come, will always be in the back of her mind. 

That tempers her joy.

About the Failure at the Faucet series

The story was produced as part of journalism classes participating in The Confluence, a collaborative project involving the Center and UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Failure at the Faucet is part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing Water Watch Wisconsin project, which examines state water quality and supply issues.  The series was produced for The Confluence, a collaborative project involving the Center and students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The investigation included reviewing dozens of studies, interviewing many of the state’s foremost water quality scientists and scouring the state to find homeowners who cannot do something most of us take for granted — cup their hand under the kitchen tap and take a long, cool drink of water. The Confluence was supported by a grant managed by the Online News Association and funded by the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation.

Thomas Piketty and ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ set the economics field ablaze

If you’d like to live in Downton Abbey, the good news is that our economy has entered a second Gilded Age of opulence and elegance. The bad news is that you’ll likely end up among the vast majority stuck sweating in the kitchen.

In a new book, Thomas Piketty, the French economist who helped popularize the notion of a privileged 1 percent, sounds a grim warning: The U.S. economy has begun to decay into the aristocratic Europe of the 19th century. Hard work will matter less, inherited wealth more. The fortunes of the few will unsettle the foundations of democracy.

The research Piketty showcases in his book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” has set the economics field ablaze. Supporters cite his work as proof that the wealth gap must be narrowed. Critics dismiss him as a left-wing ideologue.

Digging through 300 years of economic data, tax records, 19th century novels and modern TV shows, Piketty challenges the assumption that free markets automatically deliver widespread prosperity. Instead, he writes, the rich will get richer, and everyone else will find it nearly impossible to catch up.

Investments in stocks, bonds, land and buildings – the “capital” in his title – almost always grow faster than people’s wages. By its nature, capitalism fuels inequality and can destabilize democracies, Piketty argues.

Economists once viewed the three decades after World War II as proof of capitalism’s ability to build and share wealth. Piketty counters that the period was a historical outlier, a result of two world wars and the Great Depression leveling the fortunes of the old establishment.

In 2012, the top 1 percent of U.S. households received 22.5 percent of the nation’s income, the most since 1928. Piketty thinks higher taxes on wealth can curb inequality’s spread. He also thinks that sending more people to college and sharpening their skills through training could help slow the “inegalitarian spiral.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Piketty, 42, held forth on the “dangerous illusion” of the meritocracy, why China is unfairly blamed for flat U.S. wages and his fix for limiting inequality.

Here are excerpts of the interview:

Q: What is the impact of a growing wealth gap?

A: The main problem to me is really the proper working of our democratic institutions. It’s just not compatible with an extreme sort of oligarchy where 90 percent of the wealth belongs to a very tiny group. The democratic ideal has always been related to a moderate level of inequality. I think one big reason why electoral democracy flourished in 19th century America better than 19th century Europe is because you had more equal distribution of wealth in America.

Q: Your research shows that profits on investments – capital – increase faster than wages and economic growth. But a lot of people think greater inequality can help fuel stronger growth.

A: When inequality gets to an extreme, it is completely useless for growth. You had extreme inequality in the 19th century, and growth was not particularly large.

Because the growth rate of productivity was 1 to 1.5 percent per year (in 19th century Europe), and it was much less than the rate of return to wealth, which on average was 4 to 5 percent, the consequence was huge inequality of wealth. It’s important to realize that innovation and growth in itself are not sufficient to moderate inequality of wealth.

Q: Are we automatically on a course that leads us back to the Gilded Age?

A: Nobody knows. The main message of the book is that there is no pilot in the plane. There is no natural process that guarantees that this is going to stop at an acceptable level.

Q: Would inequality matter if wages were still growing for the middle class?

A: There are two big forces that are squeezing the middle class. One is the rise of the very top executive compensation, which implies that the share of labor income going to the middle and lower class is shrinking. That has been quite spectacular in the U.S. The other force we see is that the share of a country’s income going to labor tends to decline when the share that goes to capital is rising.

Q: You call meritocracy a “dangerous illusion.” That goes against how a lot people think the U.S. economy works.

A: Our modern democratic ideal is based on the hope that inequalities will be based on merit more than inheritance or luck. Sometimes, meritocratic arguments are used by the winners of the game to justify the role of unlimited inequality. I don’t think there is any serious evidence that we need to be paying people more than 100 times the average wage in order to get high-performing managers.

Q: People in Europe and the United States have a nostalgic view of the post-World War II period. We saw growing national prosperity that benefited everyone. Is it possible to get back to that?

A: It was really a transitory period due to very exceptional circumstances. Growth was extremely high, partly because of post-war reconstruction. Also, growth was exceptionally high because population growth as a rule had been extremely large in the 20th century. This isn’t really an option for policymakers. The other reason I think we should not be nostalgic is that part of the reason the inequalities were lower in the `50s and `60s is that the wars destroyed some of the inherited capital that were the sources of earlier inequality.

Q: Why do you think a wealth tax would address the destabilizing force of rising inequality?

A: Instead of having a flat tax on real estate property, you would have a progressive tax on individual net worth. You would reduce the property tax for the people who are trying to start accumulating wealth.

Q: Every American politician says education is the answer to inequality and immobility. Is more education the answer?

A: This is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run. But it’s not enough. You need both education and taxation.

Q: How did watching U.S. TV shows like “House,” “Bones,” “West Wing” and “Damages” help you with this book?

A: They tell us stories about how you can get rich, get poor, etc. The people who are heroes of the series, many of them have Ph.Ds. They represent the model of skill-based inequality. … (The shows are) like novels in the 19th century. They’re able to show in an extreme way a kind of deep justification or deep criticism of the inequality structure.

Q: Your critics see you as pushing a political agenda about class divide.

A: This is a book about historical facts. People can do what they want to do with it. The book has four parts, and Part No. 4 is about policy implications. … To me, this isn’t the most important part. If you disagree with these 100 pages, that’s fine. The whole purpose of the first 500 pages is to help people to make their own conclusions.

Modern families: U.S. Census Bureau charts trends

The U.S. Census Bureau this week released a series of statistics showing changes in households and families from 2000 to 2010.

The bureau reported:

• Interracial or interethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew by 28 percent over the decade from 7 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010.

• Nationally, 10 percent of opposite-sex married couples had partners of a different race compared with 18 percent of opposite-sex unmarried partners and 21 percent of same-sex unmarried partners.

• Sixty-six percent of all households in 2010 were family households – defined as a household where “two or more people who are related by birth, marriage or adoption live together.” That number does not include same-sex households.

• The number of nonfamily households increased 16 percent, from 34 million in 2000 to 39 million in 2010, while family households increased 8 percent, from 72 million in 2000 to 78 million in 2010.

• The percentage of households containing just one person increased from 25.8 percent in 2000 to 26.7 percent in 2010. Atlanta and Washington, D.C., had the highest percentage of one-person households among places with 100,000 people or more. In both cities, 44 percent of households reported just one person.

• There was a 41 percent increase in unmarried partner households between 2000 and 2010. Opposite-sex unmarried partner households grew from 4.9 million in 2000 to 6.8 million in 2010. Same-sex unmarried partner households grew from 358,000 to 646,000 from 2000 to 2010, or from 0.3 percent of all households to 0.6 percent of all households.

• Multigenerational households – households containing three or more parent-child generations – increased from 3.9 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2010. Nine percent of households in Hawaii were multigenerational households, which is the highest for the nation.

• The percent of households with people 65 and older increased across the decade. In 2000, 23 percent of households included someone 65 and over, compared with 25 percent in 2010.

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