Milwaukee apartment developers warned about carcinogenic chemical: DNR

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said they strongly recommended that developers of a Milwaukee apartment building hold off on moving residents in, but they did anyway. On Saturday, March 25, the Milwaukee Health Department issued an emergency order to close and evacuate more than 150 people living in the apartment complex called Community Within the Corridor - East Block.

It was the result of chemical levels testing "exceptionally high" at the complex with about 150 residents.

Developers were not at a press conference at City Hall Tuesday, so FOX6 couldn’t ask them questions.

Residents were invited to a private meeting with no media allowed.

Community Within the Corridor closed due to chemical hazard

The apartment closed because of what officials said were "exceptionally high TCE levels." The CDC says TCE is a chemical that is a colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor. The CDC goes on to say, "exposure to high concentrations can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion…and liver damage."

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"It’s been very, very hectic," said Christa Bishop. 

It's hectic enough being a mother of three.

"I have a 1-year-old who also has a medical condition, so it’s very concerning," said Bishop.

Bishop’s family is without a home, not knowing when they can go back.

Community Within the Corridor near 32nd and Center

Three days after Saturday's evacuation of the Community Within the Corridor building near 32nd and Center, city and state health officials spoke at a press conference. Milwaukee's Department of Neighborhood Services said they issued temporary occupancy certificates in 2022 not knowing a chemical hazard existed.

That’s something the DNR says they did know, saying TCE's presence on the property was documented before CWC took possession.

"Vapor intrusion has been a significant concern expressed by the DNR to CWC since early input," said Christine Sieger.

What the DNR says they didn’t know is that people were living in the building, despite "repeated requests made for this information since Monday March 20," Sieger said. They learned about the occupancy on March 22.

"The DNR had strongly recommended in writing a number of times that the developers wait to have the building occupied until they could confirm the vapor mitigation system was operated correctly, and that could take multiple rounds of testing," said Sieger.

According to a press release from the developers of CWC, residents began moving in in late 2022.

In its latest statement, CWC's developers said: "The (vapor mitigation) system was tested prior to residents taking occupancy and all tests indicated this system was working correctly and thus was considered to be safe for residents to move in. Of the 56 units that were subject to regular testing, four units showed higher-than-expected TCE levels."

Community Within the Corridor closed due to chemical hazard

The DNR said on Thursday, March 23, they learned TCE levels in the building came back significantly above established health levels.

TCE is a known carcinogen and especially toxic for women who can get or are pregnant.

With so much they don’t know, residents said they know they want answers.

"My little sister moved in, and she actually has twins," said Bishop. "She moved in Friday and had to be evacuated Saturday, so that was real concerning, and for them to know and still allowing people to move in. I think that was very inconsiderate."

FOX6 asked multiple agencies multiple times about what accountability might look like in this situation and a potential investigation into wrongdoing. We haven’t gotten a solid answer. The DNR said their focus now is on the health of the displaced residents, who have been put up in hotels.

They added that they identified a handful of pregnant women who live in the evacuated building.