City of Milwaukee Drinking Water Disinfectant Suspect

Milwaukee Water Treatment Plant Howard Avenue
Milwaukee Water Treatment Plant Howard Avenue

City of Milwaukee Drinking Water Disinfectant Suspect

By Robert Miranda

Editors Commentary

Some scholars suspect lead poisoning had something to do with the fall of Rome. While there is historical evidence that indicate that Roman authorities knew of the hazard lead presented in their water system, the jury is still out on whether lead caused Rome’s demise.

Milwaukee has a lead hazard issue. It is an issue that Milwaukee elected leaders and City Hall bureaucrats have known about for decades. However, the injustice is not in whether these public servants have or not have known about this danger to our children’s health, the injustice the authorities of Milwaukee must answer to is why they do not have a strategic PLAN in place to address this toxic hazard.

Over the past few decades’ municipal water utilities transitioned from disinfection with free chlorine to chloramine. However, within the past recent decade there have been numerous investigations revealing increased levels of metal in the water system after the introduction of chloramine.

According to a 2013 report by the United States Department of the Interior, the change from chlorine to chloramine in municipal water systems contributed to a change in the water chemistry. The report goes on to say that “chloramine and its byproducts, caused higher corrosion levels and increased leaching of the metal into the drinking water.”

The use of lead pipes for distributing drinking water was banned in the United States since 1986. Thirty years later Milwaukee has 70,000 homes, mostly in the central city, still using service line pipes made of lead. To date, there is no strategic plan by city authorities aimed at removing these pipes.

In 1991, the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) set lead and copper “action limits” at 0.015 and 1.3 (mg/L), respectively. If more than 10% of tap water samples exceed this level, municipal water works agencies must take additional steps to control the corrosivity of their water. The LCR has strict procedures for monitoring water distribution systems, as well as requirements that must be met should “action limits” be exceeded.

The City of Milwaukee meets LCR requirements from source to plant water however; Milwaukee bureaucrats wash their hands of any responsibility regarding water that flows into the 70,000 private properties with lead lateral pipes. 

This is where we have a concern. The city uses chloramine as a secondary disinfectant to our water. Chloramine is not a friend to the minerals the city uses, which provide a coating designed to stop the leaching of lead in the water flowing into the home from these lead made service pipes.

Chloramine is believed to form “higher solubility scales that can increase dissolution of metals.” According to the report by the United States Department of the Interior, elastomeric materials tend to be more strongly degraded by chloramines.  “Corrosion issues, such as increased leaching of metals or degradation of polymers, may arise when transitioning between disinfection techniques due to their varying effects on water chemistry”, says the report.

Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia often used for final disinfection in drinking water. Chloramine was considered to be a “safer” disinfectant than its older cousin chlorine because it reduces the formation of certain toxic byproducts.

Water disinfection byproducts are associated with increased risk of cancer and possibly adverse effects on the development of the fetus, so minimizing their levels in drinking water is a good thing. Yet, chloramines can drastically increase the leaching of lead from lead pipes into the drinking water.

Lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went as far to set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Who is most at risk?

The children, the unborn and the future of Milwaukee.

Long-term exposure to lead can cause serious health problems, particularly in children under the age of six. Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning. Long-term symptoms include behavioral problems, adverse brain development, and anemia to name a few.

As stated before, the City of Milwaukee currently has over 70,000 homes that have been identified as having lead pipe laterals. The large majority of those homes are in the central areas of Milwaukee where you have large swaths of low-income minority populations, primarily Blacks and Hispanics.

The negligence, or incompetence, of City of Milwaukee elected officials and administrators to not address this potential hazard is startling. In a Rules and Steering Committee earlier this year, Ald. Bob Bauman testified that he was aware of lead pipe lateral potential hazard and that six years ago he was concerned with the potential liability to the city the pipes presented by selling tax foreclosed homes the city owned that have lead lateral pipes. No mention of the potential hazard to children drinking poisonous water, just concern over being sued for knowingly selling homes that could have poisonous drinking water.

This declaration of arrogance and lack of concern for our children’s health is indicative of the representative government we have here in the City of Milwaukee.

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