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Milwaukee Alderpersons Want Health Department To Prove Lead Program Changes Are Working

Lead Paint Hazard
Jamie Hooper
Adobe Stock
Two house painters in hazmat suits removing lead paint from an old house.

Some Milwaukee Common Council members are probing the city's handling of a Bay View case involving children with elevated levels of lead in their blood. They are not liking what they're hearing.

Milwaukee Health Department managers appeared before the council's Public Safety and Health Committee Thursday to report on the case, which first came to public light last month.

Department official Marivel Montejano said her agency has been helping one of the kids for three years, and two properties the family has lived in have had lead abatement work done. But she said mistakes were made at the second site in assessing additional lead hazards to the extended family including several children.

"We recognize there was some failures by the inspector, and as a result, we are going to be making some changes to some of our internal policy," Montejano said.

Montejano said improvements have been made at the second property and the health department is still monitoring the children. "We need to continue working with that family to insure those children, that their blood lead levels have decreased," she emphasized.

This is not the first controversy for the health department's handling of the city's lead abatement program. Three years ago, City Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned amid revelations the city had failed to provide services for families with kids that had lead poisoning.

An audit and new leaders of the department have brought some changes. But Alderperson Jose Perez said he'd like to see measurements of how well the changes are working.

"Who's held responsible, and at what point are we going to get some honest answers and figure out that this committee is going to get some very measurable outcomes that we can go back and verify, because we haven't gotten them at this point," Perez said.

The family in the case lives in the district of health committee chairperson Marina Dimitrijevic. The alderperson said all current cases should be audited. She also said instead of the city waiting to test kids who may be ill, more properties should be tested for lead.

Dimitrijevic said Cleveland has a program called Leadsafe. "And what it does is work with landlords where properties are being tested proactively. Wouldn't we want to know about the walls and the paint and the soil, before it gets to a child's blood?" she asked.

Dimitrijevic said Milwaukee should look at spending more of the $400 million in American Rescue Plan dollars coming to the city on protecting kids from lead.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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