Milwaukee apartment building chemical hazard; closure ordered

A Milwaukee apartment building was closed until further notice Saturday, March 25 due to "exceptionally high" levels of a certain chemical – pushing more than 150 people out of their homes.

It's something the Milwaukee Health Department said it doesn't often find, and it's an imminent and substantial danger to health, according to the department's order for closure and evacuation.

"It’s a lot," said resident Matrix Martinez. "I got a phone call saying that we have to evacuate the building ASAP."

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That call made Martinez jump into action. He left his home with all the essentials and a whole lot of questions. 

"Our role is protecting the residents," said Tyler Weber, Milwaukee's interim health commissioner.

Milwaukee Health Department Northwest Health Center

Weber said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources contacted the health department Friday afternoon about potentially unsafe levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) inside the Community Within the Corridor east block building near 32nd and Center.

"At the levels that were found at this site, we’re working to remove residents as soon as possible," Weber said.

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A Vapor Action Level helps determine health risk based on how much of a chemical is present. According to the evacuation order, TCE levels in the building were almost 200 times a Vapor Action Level that guidelines say would justify immediate action when women of child-bearing age are present. Weber said the chemical poses health risks to anyone, but especially pregnant women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TCE is a known carcinogen.

Community Within the Corridor closed due to chemical hazard

"It’s a vapor, so it’s common in industrial buildings that used to clean equipment – or it was dumped down drains, goes into the soil, and it becomes a vapor," said Weber. "It doesn’t decompose over time. It hangs out, so there needs to be ventilation systems put in place to do remediation efforts."

According to the Community Within the Corridor website, the property is built on long-vacant industrial buildings.

The health department said it is still too early to say where the chemical came from. Right now, their focus is on getting residents a safe place to stay, working to secure hotel rooms, transportation and food.

Community Within the Corridor closed due to chemical hazard

"I’m good, but at least I got out of work early, so I can get somewhere safe instead of here," Martinez said.

FOX6 News reached out to Community Within the Corridor for comment, but did not immediately hear back.

The health department said it had not gotten any previous health complaints from the building. Officials said they will release more information to the public early next week.