By Dylan Deprey
During the night, a child gets out of bed to get a glass of water. Having zero knowledge of the lateral lead pipes under their house, they drink the water. Then like any other night, they go off to bed. This scenario is what the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) is fearful of.
The issues of water contamination and amounts of lead in Milwaukee’s drinking water have surfaced over the past year. It was reported that nearly 70,000 homes in the city of Milwaukee were under lateral pipe services.
For the past 20 years, Milwaukee has been pumping phosphorous compounds into drinking water to coat the pipes and control the lead corrosion. With heavy road construction underway, FLAC has concerns about spikes in the amount of lead around these construction areas.
Robert Miranda is a member of FLAC. He noted that the heavy amount of construction taking place could possibly shake the lead pipes loosening the phosphorous lining and release high amounts of lead in to pipes. He mentioned large construction sites and gave S. 13th St. as well as in Riverwest as an example of where the spiking could be happening. “They are ripping the streets up.
They are tearing out sidewalks they are breaking apart heavy slabs of sidewalk that are at least seven to nine inches thick. There must be a lot of heavy pounding on that ground to cause tremors in those lead pipes,” Miranda said FLAC has based their hypothesis on the possible spiking in lead around heavy roadway construction on the village of Antioch, IL in 2010.
According to a 2010 article in the Daily Herald, seven of the 30 water samples taken during that time were above the “action level” at 15 parts per billion. One property even had around 270 parts per billion, which is 18 times the federal limit. After mapping the properties, the houses with high amounts of lead were located next to road repaving and sewer replacement sites.
FLAC has asked for Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Water Work (MWW) to use Environment Protection Agency (EPA) suggested tests in areas of heavy construction.
“I’ve walked the neighborhood of S. 13 St. and been in the homes and sat with them. The only thing they were told, well not even told, but given was a notice that construction was going on and that they should flush their water,” Miranda said.
In January 2016, Barrett put the replacement of lateral lead pipes on pause. After water mains were replaced, spikes in lead occurred four to six weeks later.
Barrett had also addressed the issue of funding for private property on the removal of lead pipes in a recent WUWM interview. FLAC offered ideas of Community Development Block Grants as well as adding pipe removals to the city budget.
Dr. Patricia McManus of Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and member of FLAC noted that the concern for children’s health should be the number one priority in this project.
According to the CDC, exposures of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. It can also slow growth and development as well as cause learning and behavior problems and hearing and speech problems.
Brenda Bell-White of the Justice or Else Local Organizing Committee and FLAC member noted that she had no doubt in her mind that lead pipes were under her 150 year-old house.
“We need to get into the mindset that there is no level acceptable for lead,” Bell-White said.