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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Advocacy Group Calls For Subpoenas In Milwaukee Lead Program Investigation

Susan Bence
Before Thursday press conference, FLAC's Robert Miranda distributed documents he says bolsters the case that Milwaukee leaders could have acted sooner to protect families from possible lead in water contamination.

The Freshwater For Life Action Coalition, or FLAC, says it has information that amplifies concerns about Milwaukee's health department, and how the mayor's office has handled the problems.

FLAC wants the Common Council to dig deeper including by forcing the following people to testify before the Public Safety and Health Committee:

  • Mayor Barrett's former Chief of Staff Patrick Curley
  • Former Milwaukee Health Department Commissioner Bevan Baker
  • Former Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis
  • Former Milwaukee Health Department Communications Director Sarah DeRoo
  • Former Milwaukee Health Department Disease Control and Environmental Health Director Paul Biedrzycki
Credit Susan Bence
Robert Miranda reads from a letter sent from the Milwaukee Water Works to a pilot water sampling program participant in 2015.

FLAC made the announcement Thursday as it released documents that it says prove leaders could have enacted public health measures sooner. “Our organization has received over 2500 types of files. I am providing some of the documentation to you today,” FLAC Spokesperson Robert Miranda said.

Miranda says the documentation includes email communications within the health department and to agencies including the EPA.

The public first began learning about serious problems at the Milwaukee Health Department back in January. That's when news broke that one of the agency’s flagship programs – its childhood lead poisoning prevention – was mismanaged.

The health commissioner resigned.

Meanwhile, for more than two years, FLAC has doggedly pressured city leaders to come up with a comprehensive plan to replace lead service lines that feed water into Milwaukee’s older housing stock.

At the same time, FLAC has called attention to the public health risk that lead service lines present, when they're disturbed during water main or other infrastructure projects.

Miranda predicts the documents will show city leaders, including Mayor Tom Barrett, have known for some time that lead levels in homes can spike when pipes are disrupted.

“I find it very hard to believe the mayor did not know. Did the administration see this as nothing more than an infrastructure issue and just put aside the issue of public health. That we need to understand,” Miranda said.

Credit Susan Bence
Alderman Bob Donovan (left) said he will follow up on FLAC's concerns.

Miranda and a cluster of Black Panthers of Milwaukee members took their concerns to committee chair Bob Donovan.  He promised to look into the matter.

‘I will most definitely meet with President Hamilton and either him, through the Steering & Rules Committee or my committee,the public safety and health, will bring these people forward, that would be my intention,” Donovan said.

Donovan says he wouldn’t rule out demanding the mayor testify.

“I hope that it would never come to that point, but I do think depending on what we hear from these individuals it may be appropriate to ask him to come forward as well,” Donovan said.

WUWM reached out to Mayor Tom Barrett’s office as well as Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton. At the time of this report neither had commented about FLAC’s allegations or demands.

FLAC says it plans to release all of the documents it has unearthed to the public.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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