About 150 people remain displaced from Milwaukee apartment complex, raise concern about status
About 150 residents of a major affordable housing project on Milwaukee's north side remain in temporary housing, as more details seep out about chemical contamination at the Community Within the Corridor.
The Milwaukee Health Department ordered the tenants evacuated last Saturday after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told the city about elevated levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) — a carcinogen — at the site. The chemical was in the soil below the building, but vaporized and got into indoor air.
TCE is often found in solvents, used in factories as a degreaser. Community Within the Corridor, 3100 W. Center, is on a former industrial site, mainly used by Briggs & Stratton.
At a City Hall news conference late Tuesday, the DNR said the agency and the developer knew about the TCE when redevelopment started three years ago. The firm's consultant had the developer put in a piping and fan system intended to remove dangerous vapor. But the DNR said it only found out last week that company indoor air sampling in February showed TCE contamination above established health levels.
The DNR's Christine Sieger said her department did not know people had been living there for months, and doesn't issue occupancy permits.
"We make sure people are in compliance with the state environmental contamination law, and we help them be in compliance with that. We supply technical assistance to them, but we are not the entity that issues an occupancy permit," Sieger told the news media.
Erica Roberts is the Commissioner of the city's Department of Neighborhood Services. She said DNS issued temporary occupancy certificates last summer and extended them in December.
"At that time as well, the Department was unaware that any of these hazards existed," Roberts said.
Tuesday evening, the city and state agencies held a briefing for the evacuated residents at a far south side high school near where many are staying in hotels. Media were blocked from attending. But out on the sidewalk, Bridgett Wilder said she and the other displaced people have feelings of devastation, disrespect and disappointment with Community Within the Corridor.
"I thought, wow, what a great way to rehab the city of Milwaukee with making those nice-looking apartments. But just because they're physically and aesthetically pleasing, the fact that we are at risk for cancer and other diseases, the beauty of it doesn't matter. Our lives are at stake," Wilder told reporters.
The developers, Roers Companies, said they acknowledge residents' lives have been disrupted and are pledging cooperation with officials.
A Health Department spokesperson said no date has been set for when people can move back into their home.