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UPDATE: Milwaukee Alderman, Health Department at odds over lead water issues

UPDATE: On Friday, lead water expert Mark Edwards backtracked on his critcism of the Milwaukee Health Department. 

In a letter provided to CBS 58 News by the health department, Edwards writes in part, "It is important to note, that since our workshop on the lead in water issue last year in Milwaukee, the health department has followed through with several important programs that proactively reduce the health threat from lead in drinking water. While I (and others) can argue that these steps have not gone far enough, and point out language that has sometimes trivialized lead in water exposures relative to those posed by lead dust or lead paint—the new programs should have been explicitly acknowledged. My earlier letter should have made that clear. It did not do so."

Edward's latest letter, comes after the health department responded to his criticisms, with details about their lead prevention programs.
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A Milwaukee alderman is calling on the heath department to change their recommendations when it comes to combatting lead in water.

Alderman Tony Zielinski (District 14) says the city's message needs to be more clear: that filters are the only way to protect against lead poisoning if your home has lead service lines or pipes.

“Lead in the water is a very serious issue,” Ald. Zielinski said. “And to be quite frank, I think the information that our health department is disseminating is inaccurate.”

Ald. Zielinski is pushing a resolution, which would require the health department to recommend filters for women of childbearing age (15-45) and children under the age of six, living in buildings with lead service lines. It would also end the recommendation to flush pipes.

“The first thing is the commissioner needs to issue an immediate advisory letting the public know they shouldn't be flushing the water,” Ald. Zielinski said.

The Health Department opposed a draft of the resolution in a letter dated May 8, saying their current recommendations are evidence-based and "filtration devices if a home is at risk for lead in drinking water and is home to children under the age of six or pregnant or breast feeding women."

The letter also states "flushing water prior to consumption is a cost-effective and accessible means of reducing potential lead exposure."

On Tuesday, Mark Edwards, a lead water expert, who appeared at a forum on water quality with Mayor Barrett last year, weighed in. He blasted the health department's opposition to the resolution, calling it a "misguided attempt to downplay the health threat from lead in water.”

Edward’s also added, "The Common Council should also not accept their outdated opinion, that "flushing" is an adequate response."

“My district has the highest concentration of lead service lines in the city of Milwaukee so I have no choice but to move this forward,” Ald. Zielinski said.

Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force is backing Ald. Zielinski’s proposal. Tussler, along with Ald. Zielinski, are part of the Milwaukee Nutrition and Lead task force, a group working with the community to get the word out about the threat of lead in water.   

“I also think the city went out of its way to ignore lead in water and has not provides us with appropriate information about what we should do,” Tussler said. “And flushing our pipes is not what we should do and filtering our water is what we should do.”  

The Nutrition and Lead task force has a website with information about lead poisoning and what you can do, GetWellFed.org.

In a statement to CBS 58 news Thursday, a spokeswoman for the health department reiterated that they already recommend filters and assist low-income families in getting filters. She also says they stand by the recommendation to flush pipes.

This resolution will go before the city's public safety committee next Thursday.

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