By Dylan Deprey
It was a place the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) and spokesperson Robert Miranda knew all too well. In City Hall, in front of a podium, giving a press conference about lead lateral pipes buried below 70,000 Milwaukee homes.
But, according to Miranda there could be an additional 15,000 homes built between an eleven-year span unaccounted for.
FLAC had been investigating the City’s claim that homes built past 1951 were lead-free, prior to a Milwaukee Water Quality Task Force meeting on Dec. 9.
Miranda brought the concern to the task force during the December meeting, and asked the them to investigate.
At the Feb. Water Quality Task Force Meeting, Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) Superintendent Carrie Lewis said there was no proper documentation to verify 1951 as the cutoff date for mandated lead lateral lines.
During the meeting, it was also revealed that copper pipes for private lateral lines connected to the City-owned water main were not mandated until 1962.
“If we don’t have an idea of how many homes really have lead laterals from 1951 through 1962, this whole idea of 70,000 homes is a number the city went ahead and reached for out of the dark,” Miranda said during the Feb. 14 press conference.
In a letter from FLAC delivered to Mayor Tom Barrett, demanded the MWW inform consumers as well as provide how to check for lead pipes.
“This is a threat, hazard and danger to the families of Milwaukee who are thinking their homes are lead water free, and they have to be notified,” Miranda said.
Since the story broke in 2015, organizations like FLAC have kept pressure on the City to take a more aggressive approach on the issue.
The City has provided free water filters, created a Lead-Free awareness campaign. The Common Council also enacted an emergency lead line removal ordinance near the end of Dec. 2016 to assist residences with up to three-quarters of the cost for emergency repairs or removal.
Miranda said the recently passed ordinance was not the “End-all, Be-all” for lead laterals.
“We are asking that the Mayor proceed in a more aggressive manner, than relying on these half measures,” Miranda said.
The City estimated a full-line removal to cost between $6 million and $8 million.
FLAC argued that although lead laterals on private property belong solely to the property owner, the City mandated homeowners to use lead pipes or could not connect to the City water main.
“Why would you go against what the City mandated?” Miranda said.
WISDOM President Rev. Willie Briscoe, a FLAC board member, said that a strategic removal plan needs to be created as soon as possible because it is an immediate environmental and health issue.
“This is not something you can lay down as a financial issue when people are being poisoned,” Briscoe said. “There is no acceptable…”
NAACP President Fred Royal said the original bulk of lead lateral service lines have been found in Aldermanic Districts 7, 10 and 14. He noted that it was not just a Black issue.
“Not all of the City’s problems occur in the 53206,” Royal said. “This is a citywide issue that needs to be addressed.”
Miranda gave two options for those with homes built between 1951 and 1962.
The first was to check to see if a dull gray pipe was connected to the water meter in the basement.
If the pipe scratches easily and is not magnetic, then it is lead.
If the pipe is inaccessible, the second choice is to grab a shovel and dig outside to check the pipe.
“This is very serious because we don’t have a clear number on how many homes in the city actually have lead pipes,” Miranda said.