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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Some Demand Action to Solve Milwaukee's Lead in Water Crisis, Others Say Mayor Should Resign

Susan Bence
Tuesday morning Jamaal Smith with YWCA Southeast Wisconsin was among those calling for immediate action on Milwaukee's lead in water crisis.

Update: During Tuesday's press event, Freshwater for Life Action Coalition, or FLAC, spokesperson Robert Miranda called for action.

  • Immediate implementation of the resolution passed by the Milwaukee Common Council and signed by Mayor Barrett on December 6. It requires the health department to strengthen public education about the risks associated with lead in water and what families can do to protect themselves.
  • Mayor Barrett issues a water advisory, especially for those homes that have lead laterals.
  • Common Council augments its plan to investigate Milwaukee's lead in water situation by bringing in the U.S. Attorney.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
King Rick with the Black Panthers of Milwaukee says its time for Mayor Barrett to leave office.

The loudest cry for Mayor Barrett's resignation came from King Rick with the Black Panthers of Milwaukee.

"The Mayor has to go.  The Common Council president has to go.  These are criminal activities that are causing harm to our children.  There is no more more discussion about this, no more poisoning our children, no more treating us like we don't care.  The Black Panthers are putting you on notice and everybody who needs to be held accountable....this has got to end," he shouted.

Robert Miranda says FLAC is not calling for Mayor Barrett’s immediate resignation, but doesn’t rule it out depending on what investigations turn up.

Jamaal Smith  with the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin chose the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he echoed Miranda’s call to action. "Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter," Smith quoted.

Smith says his 9-year-old son and every child deserve safe, clean water. "When I look into the eyes of many of the children around Milwaukee and they are being exposed to this poison……and for there to be common knowledge of this existing shows me that our lives are not as valued as the lives of others,” Smith says.

Mayor Barrett's office issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

Mayor Barrett continues to take the health and safety of Milwaukee residents seriously. Decisions are made based on data and science provided and the resources available.

Original Post, Morning of December 16, 2018:

Susan Bence chatted with WUWM's Rachel Owens during Morning Edition Tuesday about Milwaukee's lead in water situation.

Late last week Mayor Tom Barrett took many residents by surprise when he announced Milwaukee’s health commissioner Bevan Baker had resigned, and in the same breath, that the agency might have failed to notify families whose children tested positive for elevated lead levels from 2015 through 2017.

Tuesday morning one of the community’s most outspoken critics of city leadership - FLAC, or Freshwater for Life Coalition - gathered at the Mayor’s office door with a call for immediate action.

The health department was already under growing pressure to educate the public about lead risks and how they can protect themselves.

The health department rolled out a public awareness campaign just under year ago, called Lead-Safe Milwaukee. But advocacy groups immediately said it fell short. They said that the message recommending water filters for the most vulnerable wasn’t prominent enough. Critics also argued the importance of testing blood for lead wasn’t adequately emphasized.

Over the months then-health commissioner Bevan Baker defended the campaign as being medically up to speed.

Yet criticism hammered away and in November, the city council approved a resolution directing the health department to modify its campaign.

Last Friday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he’s directing the department to send a full audit and analysis to him and the common council.

Meanwhile the city’s common council is scrambling to respond. It's planning a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, and says it will hold the mayor's administration responsible for what it calls a “serious failure.”

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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