News Feature | June 20, 2016

Milwaukee Among U.S. Cities Accused Of Concealing Lead

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

The city of Milwaukee recently found itself in unfortunate company as one of 33 major cities accused of concealing dangerous levels of lead in its drinking water.

According to The Guardian, the tactic of pre-flushing, or running faucets before a testing period to clear lead from home plumbing, is a practice used across many large cities. As Water Online has reported, several major cities including Milwaukee tested water for lead in this way.

Milwaukee Water Commons' Ann Brummitt said that her concern began to increase last January when reading an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the potential threat of lead contamination and the cost of fixing the problem.

”[When I looked] at the Milwaukee Water Works website again, and I thought maybe after the Guardian article they would have changed this. But it still suggests that if individuals want to test their water that they should… let the tap run three to five minutes and then fill the sample bottle,” Brummitt told WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio.

The U.S. EPA has warned since 2008 that pre-flushing is problematic and goes against the “intent” of regulations designed to detect lead. However, the federal agency failed to correctly police state agencies who included the method in sample instructions for years.

The drinking water infrastructure of Milwaukee, according to WUWM, resembles that of “miles and miles” of mains delivering water to neighborhoods. Lateral pipes connect the main to houses. Milwaukee is responsible for the portion up to the property line, with the property owner having to take care of the rest.

Approximately 70,000 properties in Milwaukee are at risk. The mains were built before 1951 when communities commonly installed and used lead pipes. In 1996, Milwaukee took a step to keep the issue at bay. It started adding a phosphorous compound to its drinking water. The compound coats pipes to control lead corrosion.