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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

As EPA Prepares To Revise Lead Rule, Milwaukee Residents Make Their Voices Heard

Susan Bence
Milwaukee resident Robert Miranda invited 25 people to share their views on lead in water with the EPA.

The need to replace aging infrastructure in Milwaukee, especially lead service lines that feed drinking water into many homes, has become a hot topic.

There are hopes that money funneled to states through the federal infrastructure bill will help cover the cost. Still, some citizens were calling for a speedier lead pipe replacement long before a federal package was discussed. They cited the disproportionate and longstanding impacts of lead exposure on Black and brown children. On Thursday, EPA officials met with some of the concerned Milwaukee residents. Milwaukee residents demanded a meeting, after feeling their voices were not heard at an EPA virtual roundtable earlier this summer.

Several months ago, the EPA said it wanted to hear from communities impacted by lead in water. It's a nagging source of childhood lead poisoning. Meanwhile, the agency has been working on long-overdue revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, which regulates lead in public drinking systems. Starting in June, the agency visited 10 cities to hold virtual community roundtables on the rule.

Milwaukee resident Robert Miranda has never shied from sharing his concerns on the topic. He's a spokesperson for the grassroots group Freshwater For Life Action Coalition, or FLAC. He's also a steering committee member of Get The Lead Out.

READ Milwaukee Advocacy Group Says Mayor's Lead In Water Efforts Fall Woefully Short

Miranda said even before the EPA announced the communities it would visit, he sat down and wrote the EPA a letter, “outlining how we wanted to address this and we had to come up with 25 individuals to be part of our group we thought would provide a well-rounded opinion of what’s going on,” Miranda said.

He said the EPA didn’t respond. Weeks later, Miranda learned Milwaukee was one of the 10 cities the EPA chose to visit virtually. The local host was to be Milwaukee’s water utility.

READ EPA Administrator Says Milwaukee Has A "Winning Recipe" Marrying Jobs, Infrastructure & Natural Resources

“It’s a government agency, so I asked how does the Water Works fit the bill of community?” Miranda asked.

Miranda said he was even more puzzled to learn that none of the community roundtables in other cities was hosted by a utility or government agency. “The EPA said they wanted to hear what the people in the community are saying, not the bureaucrats. I protested in a letter why I believed the decision was wrong,” Miranda said.

Again, Miranda said he got no response, "So I sent another letter and then they agreed, they said ‘okay we’ll meet with you and your group,'" Miranda said.

On Thursday afternoon, the EPA gave Miranda and 25 people he invited the chance to share their perspectives. His view: he wants a revised Lead and Copper Rule to mandate the removal of all lead service lines. About 70,000 remain in Milwaukee. “One mandate we hope EPA will include is you need to remove pipes in 10 to 15 years,” Miranda said.

Miranda said it's time to focus on public health and the future of our cities “And that future is our children. Children’s brains are being damaged. Plenty of studies show crime is linked to lead poisoning, success in education is linked to the whole issue,” Miranda said.

Miranda said if the EPA acts boldly and communities mobilize, the next generation and the ones beyond will experience the benefits.

The EPA pledges to ensure the revised Lead and Copper Rule protects communities from lead, especially vulnerable populations. The agency says it heard from community groups, advocacy groups, and others during its virtual visits earlier this summer. It did not explain why it chose Milwaukee Water Works as host.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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