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DNR in dark on people living in affordable housing development until last minute

Developers for the Community Within the Corridor didn’t tell the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources people were living inside the affordable housing development until the last minute, prompting an evacuation that left 150 people outside of their apartments last week, officials said.

On March 24, city of Milwaukee officials ordered 150 people to evacuate from a recently remodeled apartment building on N. 32nd and W. Center Street, citing high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogen which can cause health concerns with acute exposure, according to officials.

DNR officials said in a statement they weren’t notified the East block of the development was occupied until March 22, despite them asking the developer for the timeline for occupancy. The agency received indoor air test data the next day showing high levels of TCE and immediately called Milwaukee health officials.

Roers Companies LLC and Scott Crawford Inc., developers of Community Within the Corridor, said they had been working closely with the city and state agencies to remediate the contamination and move back into the development. Developers called the increase of TCE levels in the east block unexpected.

“We understand what a disruption and inconvenience this has been for our residents, and our goal is to effectively address this matter and remove any potential health concerns quickly, in order to return residents back to their homes and daily lives as soon as possible,” the developers said in a statement.

TCE, in the form of a colorless liquid, is a known carcinogen and high concentrations of health problems can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, liver damage and even death, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The chemical is used primarily as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts across many industries, the CDC added.

The Community’s east block is approximately four acres and was contaminated from 50 years of manufacturing operations, DNR officials said.

“When soil and groundwater are contaminated with solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE), indoor air quality hazards can be present within buildings in the vicinity of the plume. These hazards are caused by the ability of TCE to migrate from soil or groundwater to soil vapor and through the basement or foundation of the structure into the indoor air, a process known as vapor intrusion,” DNR officials said in a statement.

The Community was built in a former factor and was split into an east and west block which had different uses over the years, State Sen. LaTonya Johnson told The Daily Reporter. The DNR asked for air and soil contamination data from the developer but didn’t get results back until 7 p.m. on March 24.

“A huge issue for those tenants was to find out they were leasing a newly remodeled residence and find out there’s a carcinogen inside to cause harm,” Johnson said.

The city will likely settle the issue with the developer and pass along costs for housing and feeding the people who were displaced to the developer, Johnson added.

Residents moved into the west block of the development in July of 2022 and the latest indoor air test results from December of 2022 showed the occupancy was safe, DNR officials said. The agency was told at the time nobody was living in the east block as it was still under development.

The city said it was working to relocate residents from the east block with safe, temporary housing. DNR officials are working with developer Scott Crawford Inc. and their consultant to address the environmental contamination issues, agency officials said.

About Ethan Duran

Ethan Duran is the construction and development reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 551-7505 or [email protected]

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