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Workers replace an old lead pipe
with a new safer copper pipe at a
home in Flint, Michigan, March 4, 2016.

Saturday morning I attended the Community Brainstorming Conference with Ms. Lucille Berrien, 88 year old civil rights leader in Milwaukee. The Community Brainstorming featured the city clerk for City Council and Mr. Ashanti Hamilton, the President of the City Council of Milwaukee. In the question and answer period I asked Mr. Hamilton what the City Council was doing about this serious health problem of lead in the water of 70,000 homes with lead lateral pipes in city of Milwaukee. He did not really answer the questions but made reference to a report saying lead levels of children in Milwaukee was lower in recent years. I came home and wrote this letter.

Dear Mr. Hamilton,
You made the statement this morning at the Community Brainstorming Conference (CBC) session that lead poisoning in Milwaukee children has decreased in recent years. Could you please send me a copy of this study? The Wisconsin Watch Report of Jan. 2016 states:

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.

‘’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.
(See also Lead pipes, antiquated law threaten Wisconsin’s drinking water quality a Feb. 2016 report of Wisconsin Watch.org)’‘

You probably received these reports but ignored them. Please send me the report you referenced at CBC.

Also you made it sound like lead poisoning was discovered last January, when in fact the City of Milwaukee put a ban on replacing water mains in areas where the new main pipes would disrupt the lead lateral pipes. Many of us might have learned of danger of lead at that time but city officials have known about the dangers of lead pipes in children and infants since at least 2001, when Madison undertook a successful comprehensive plan to eradicate lead laterals in that city.

The dangers of lead poisoning in children has been well documented. Here is one report that is footnoted in a report that I wrote a while back about the intense danger to Milwaukee children from lead poisoning. Another recent report by a professor from Harvard, on the link between lead water pipes and homicide rates in cities, strengthens the case to rid our city, over 70,000 homes, mostly in North Central and South Central Milwaukee, from lead pipes.

Mayor Barrett and the Common Council have known about this lead poisoning for a long time and have not developed a strategic and comprehensive plan to deal with it. More talk and study while spending millions on a downtown streetcar and new sports arena is not the answer. I can give you specific examples where the Common Council has discussed the issue of lead laterals but failed to come up with a strategic plan to rid Milwaukee of Lead Lateral pipes.

The City of Milwaukee’s Water Department, Milwaukee Water Works, is very profitable. Since it is a non-profit it does not need to pay taxes but in lieu of taxes gives the City of Milwaukee a significant amount of money each year. The City of Waukesha is getting approval from the Great Lakes Compact to get water and return water from Great Lakes. They will be purchasing millions of dollars of water from Oak Creek since Milwaukee said no to City of Waukesha, even with the approval of 8 states and 2 Canadian provinces to the request. Our city water bills were raised to pay for new main water pipelines that are now on hold. With millions earned or being spent on downtown streetcars and sports arena it is not a matter of money while we have lead poisoning for our children. It is a matter of moral priority.

I live in one of 70, 000 homes with lead laterals. I had my water tested and found out it had a low level of lead for adults. But when I checked on safe levels of lead for children I found this: “EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood. Lead is harmful to health, especially for children.” (EPA reporton Lead in Drinking water)

I came this morning looking for understanding of this great moral and health issue in Milwaukee. Both my parents grew up in Milwaukee, as well as I, in older homes with lead pipes. Maybe I can blame lead in my brain for my disruptive behavior this morning; but I know better. The same old talk and study, running water or filters will not solve this problem. I came looking for a commitment from the Common Council President to develop a comprehensive plan to rid this plague from our children. I still have hope but a little less in the Common Council.

Bob Graf
www.nonviolentcow.org

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