By Dylan Deprey
It was almost like déjà vu for Rosie (Mama Rose) Caradine-Lewis as she sat listening to a presentation at the Wisconsin African American Women’s Center. The PowerPoint playing at the front of the room read, “Lead-Free Water.” After having fought the lead paint industry back in the late seventies and early eighties, she said that she would hop back in the ring for a second round.
“After all the work we went through, all the paperwork and going to court. We worked really hard and to see this just makes me want to go in a hole, but I’m not I’m going to fight,” Caradine-Lewis said.
In the fight for clean drinking water, the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) held its first town hall meeting Aug. 18. The meeting was a way to reach out to the community, and educate those who might have lead service lines buried beneath their house.
FLAC was created ten months ago to bring awareness to the dangers of the 70,000 lead lateral pipes providing water to households across the city. The coalition did extensive research and investigating to arm those with the knowledge of how to deal with lead contaminated water.
Robert Miranda, FLAC member, said that most of the lead pipes are located on primarily the North and South sides of Milwaukee in older stock homes.
Miranda explained the linear process of water from lake to faucet. Water is pumped from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Then Milwaukee Water Works sends the water to Linnwood Water Treatment Plant. After going through reverse osmosis and distillation processes it is sent through pipes to a water main where the water is still clean. Once the water leaves the main and flows through the lead lateral pipes connecting the house to the water main, the glass of ice water is contaminated.
Miranda also mentioned how the city put their service line replacement project to a halt back in January 2016. The problem with the lead service lines was that half of the line belonged the city and the other to the homeowner. What the city had been doing was replacing their “half” of the pipe with copper pipe.
The first problem was that by disturbing the pipes, phosphorous gas added to coat the pipes lead is left useless when it is shaken. The second issue is that when copper and lead react they create a volatile battery.
“Partial service lines are not the answer. Lead should not be an issue for our families, it’s poisonous to our children, toxic to our water, and the whole thing needs to be replaced,” Miranda said.
Lead water contamination comes with great costs: physically and financially. A lateral service line replacement in Milwaukee costs around $10,000. FLAC as well as other elected officials in the audience mentioned working on trying to receive grants and potentially work out a budget to help with the cost of the replacement.
Dr. Patricia McManus, FLAC coalition member, said that reports back in the nineties showed that kids who had experienced high amounts of lead showed high irritability, lower IQ, and can even more prone to violence.
Infants and children are the most at-risk because lead is a neurotoxin. So, when a newborn drinks formula mixed with contaminated water it is also ingesting toxins that are poisonous and destructive to nervous tissue in the brain. This can cause brain disorders.
“The key thing is, there is no safe level of lead, to me its insane to say ‘well if you are lower then this amount you are fine,” McManus said.