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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Coalition Calls on Mayor Barrett to Speed Up Solution to Milwaukee’s Lead Pipe Problem

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
Members of the Freshwater For Life Coalition at City Hall Tuesday. NAACP president Fred Royal at microphone.

The Freshwater For Life Coalition, or FLAC, delivered a letter to Barrett on Tuesday.

The group is demanding the city take big, immediate steps to address its crisis of lead pipes carrying water into thousands of homes.

The call comes after news erupted late last week during a Water Quality Task Force meeting.  Its members learned Milwaukee did not mandate the use of copper pipes until 1962. For months, city leaders had been repeating the message that only people living in homes built prior to 1951 likely had lead service lines.

FLAC  founder Robert Miranda said news that not 70,000 but perhaps more than 80,000 homes are affected, propelled his group to call for immediate action.

Credit Susan Bence
FLAC founder Robert Miranda (center) prepares to deliver letter to Mayor Barrett.

“Asking the city to begin alerting the public in regards to this concern, begin directing the Milwaukee Water Works to contact water consumers of the city and alert them that they might have lead pipes. In that contact, provide them information that will help them determine if they have lead pipes or not,” Miranda says.

In 2017, crews from the Department of Public Works began replacing lead lines, but only when a rupture occurs. The estimate of how many lines may be remediated under that protocol, is about 300. Workers will also begin replacing the lead lines that feed water to day care centers.

FLAC is calling on the city to come up with a strategic plan to orchestrate full replacements citywide.

NAACP president Fred Royal is a member of FLAC. He says moving full steam ahead could also result in sorely-needed jobs.

And if residents think only the poorest of neighborhoods are impacted by the lead pipe problem, Royal says, think again.

“As I stated, Tony Zielinski’'s neighborhood in Bay View has a high number of lead laterals, Alderman Murphy’s district has a high level. The district where I live, where Khalif Rainey lives, they’re all middle-income neighborhoods, they’re not 53206. Everything negative does not occur in 53206. This is an issue that is citywide, that is trying to be framed as a black issue, but it’s a citywide issue, it’s a health issue,” Royal says.

Milwaukee’s Reverend Willie Brisco says as he learned more about the environmental and health risks associated with lead, he knew he had to speak out.

Lead ingestion can permanently damage a child’s brain and nervous system.

“(In) Milwaukee, this is an issue that a year or two ago we didn’t know existed. Now that we know it’s here, we can’t place an amount of money on the health and well-being of our families. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to affect our communities, our state and our nation,” Brisco says.

Brisco says the religious coalition he’s part of, WISDOM, is calling on the political leaders who represent Milwaukee to consider themselves in a state of emergency, when it comes to halting people’s exposure to lead in drinking water.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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