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Coalitions claim Milwaukee is not being transparent about lead problem

MILWAUKEE -- Two coalitions claim the City of Milwaukee is not being transparent about its lead problem. The groups made their case at City Hall on Friday, March 22.

Alderman Bob Donovan

To discuss the city's ongoing lead problem, Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan set some ground rules.

"I'm not interested in hearing other things or any dog and pony show," Donovan said.

The alderman asked the two coalitions to get to the point.

"To once and for all get some answers," Donovan said.

The Freshwater for Life Action Coalition and Get the Lead Out Milwaukee claim lead in Milwaukee water lines caused the deaths of up to 50 infants on an eight-block stretch of North Ave. They also say the city altered its lead poisoning maps to make the issue look less severe than it really is.

Robert Miranda

"We got an answer to that from the city. It was that there was a HIPAA violation. We don't believe that," said Robert Miranda, Freshwater for Life Action Coalition.

The city's medical director said the groups have misinterpreted data -- that the deaths were not confined to one neighborhood -- and that lead was not to blame.

"If lead was driving infant mortality rates, the medical examiner would know it; we would know it," said Dr. Geoffrey Swain, interim medical director.

City leaders also dispute the groups' claims that living in a city-owned property raises your risk of lead poisoning -- and that the city failed to warn residents that road work can cause lead levels to rise.

Karen Dettmer

"We offer sampling to the tap to residents that are getting a lead service line replacement prior to and post replacement," said Karen Dettmer, Superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works.

The lead coalitions stand by their data.

"There are plenty of discontinuities," said Robert Penner of Get the Lead Out Milwaukee.

They are calling for an outside group to audit the city's lead program work.

"We need to go door-to-door and check them," Penner said.

Alderman Donovan said he was satisfied with the city's answers.

Meanwhile, the coalitions will continue to push the city to remove all the remaining lead laterals at no expense to the homeowner.

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