Tempers flare over new lead poisoning data presented at Common Council meeting

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MILWAUKEE -- Things got heated at City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 14 during a meeting between Milwaukee Common Council members and activists against lead exposure. It came more than a year after it was revealed the Milwaukee Health Department seriously mismanaged its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, putting thousands of children at risk of lead exposure.

Activists questioned whether city officials performed partial replacements of lead laterals -- only removing the public service lines, not the private lines directly connected to properties -- resulting in continued exposure to lead through the property's tap water.

Leaders with the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition and the Get The Lead Out Coalition brought up three main concerns while presenting their new findings on lead exposure to the Milwaukee Common Council's Steering and Rules Committee.

The data was immediately met with skepticism from council members.

"For everyone watching, these assertions are probably wrong," said Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman.

The activists argued their research showed lead exposure may result in death for infants. This, in direct contrast to memos from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office that said lead is not a contributing factor in infant mortality.

"Every damn time they say something, then our experts say, 'No. That's not the case,'" said Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan.

In a slideshow presentation, the activists also accused city officials of doctoring their own maps to make it appear as though lead exposure is less serious than what it really is.

Finally, they questioned whether water service lines for new homes being built along North Avenue were connected to old lead laterals.

"I think there is a sense of responsibility to get those questions answered," said Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton.

With a lot of questions unanswered, the activists planned to meet again with the Common Council on March 7. Representatives from the mayor's office, the health department and the ME's office were asked to present.

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