Oconto Co. employees get blood tests for lead exposure

Lead levels in the water exceed safety limits


OCONTO, Wis. (WBAY) – On Wednesday, more than forty employees and about twenty inmates in Oconto County’s Courthouse and Jail had their blood tested for lead exposure.

Last month, people who live and work inside the building complained about gray-colored water coming from faucets and drinking fountains, and the county ordered tests—finding a dangerous amount of lead in the water.

“Don’t drink the water” signs are posted all over the building next to water coolers that were installed as soon as the county realized a corroded pipe (built in 1891) was contaminating the water with lead.”

“We have elevated lead levels,” Courthouse Administrator Kevin Hamann told Action 2 News. “The standard is fifteen parts per billion—and we have 49.”

According to the EPA—a lead concentration of anything more than 40 parts per billion in drinking water is “cause for immediate action” and “an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of children and pregnant women.”

“As a result, we’ve looked at what we need to do to ease the employees concerns so we’re having blood tests done if they want,” said Hamann. “That’s being done today. We’re getting the pipes replaced—that’s going to cost us about $20,000.”

“The county board actually took emergency action to go ahead and pass that to get that pipe replaced,” said Jail Administrator Carol Kopp.

Kopp is one of the 70 or so people in the building—waiting for the results of today’s blood test—which reveals how much lead she’s been exposed to.

“If the levels come back higher than normal, we would have an opportunity to make that a worker’s comp claim,” said Kopp.

Results are expected within the next few days. Additional tests are being run on the pipes and water—those results will also be released within the next few days.