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Black = 70,000 Older Residential Properties
with Lead-Pipe Laterals in Milwaukee

Yesterday morning, I attended a press conference on the “Looming Water Crisis in Milwaukee.” After a while one major local TV station showed up and near the end of the press conference another one arrived. When the speakers talked about the brain damage that lead causes I was not surprised. Neither was I surprised that the Mayor and City Council members have ignored doing something about lead pipes carrying water to homes.

Interest perked up when an alderman spoke about how 70,000 homes, mostly in black and brown neighborhoods in Milwaukee were affected. He told us that in 2011 he got the Common Council, over the veto of the Mayor, to support a program that would help homeowner pay for the replacement of lead pipes connecting the main line to their homes only to see the Mayor and water department cancel the program in 2013. When the water crisis in Milwaukee was compared to the one in Flint, Michigan I was very alert. It was explained how the Mayor and the majority of City Council members have committed millions of our taxpayer dollars to a downtown trolley line serving the wealthy white people moving there and also millions of our tax dollars to fund a sports complex downtown for a few Wall Street billionaires. However, they have postponed dealing with the lead in water crisis until after the election.

I was really disturbed after I got home and did some research about lead in children in Milwaukee as compared to lead in children in Flint, Michigan. A Wisconsin Watch study of Water in Wisconsin found that the percentage of lead-poisoned children among those tested in Wisconsin — 4.5 percent — is similar to the 4.9 percent of children diagnosed in 2015 in the Flint region, where state and federal officials have declared a state of emergency over the spike in lead in drinking water and children’s blood. However in Milwaukee “the percentage is even higher: 8.6 percent of children tested in 2014 had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which children are known to suffer health problems, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Even those percentages likely understate the magnitude of the problem, claims Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor whose team helped identify the lead problem in Flint’s water. In the same report he says that standard testing for lead in blood begins around age 1, a time when children become mobile and may be exposed to lead paint or dust — ignoring infants on formula who may be ingesting large amounts of lead-tainted tap water. “Neither in Flint nor in Wisconsin is the greatest at-risk group being tested,” Edwards said.

A speaker at the press conference called out a City Council member for dismissing the issue when it came up at recent Council meeting saying the Council has been talking about this issue for a long time. The speaker admitted that the Council has been talking about the issue for a long time but doing nothing about it. I looked for media coverage of the press conference and found none, not even by the TV station present.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in a report on January 27, 2016 in an article on lead service pipes (laterals) to homes reported “since 2001, the Madison water utility has worked with property owners to replace 8,000 lead laterals.” The same article reports that “in Milwaukee the Milwaukee Water Works has canceled 5 miles of water main replacement projects scheduled this year in older residential neighborhoods where lead pipes connect municipal mains to around 500 homes. The Milwaukee Water Works decision on main construction was made out of concern that the brief disconnection required in main replacement work temporarily would boost lead contamination in the drinking water of those 500 homes.

The Mayor of Milwaukee who has been aware of the lead in lateral pipes to homes in predominately African-American and Hispanic low income neighbors in North and South Central Milwaukee for the twelve years he has been in office says, in the same article, the projects are “on pause,” while public works and health officials plan how they will work with property owners to remove the lead service laterals throughout the city. Will the “on pause” end after the upcoming elections? When will the people demand no lead pipes to homes in low income Brown and Black neighborhoods? The health of our children in Milwaukee demands we do something about the higher than Flint lead poison in our children.

Milwaukee is the new Birmingham of segregation. Will it be the new Flint, Michigan of lead poisoning in children?

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