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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Preventing Lead Poisoning In Milwaukee: League Of Women Voters Advance Discussion

Susan Bence
Get The Lead Out Coalition member Robert Penner chatted with Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik at the conclusion of Tuesday's roundtable.

More and more people appear concerned about the public health dangers posed by lead – especially to young children and pregnant women. Among the groups trying to move from conversation to action is the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County. The group convened a roundtable discussion Tuesday in West Allis.

Steve Elmore with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) comes at lead from the water angle. "I can only do so much and engaging in conversations like this where local folks are trying to tackle the issue of lead and lead exposure and how do we something about it, we need that,” Elmore says.

Elmore is one of a diverse collection of 24 participants, which included representatives from the Wisconsin Division of Public Health and the Interfaith Earth Network.

The two-hour moderated discussion included the need of health workers on the ground, qualified crews to remove lead paint and pipes and funding to mobilize both.

Credit Susan Bence
Participants discussed topics including lead testing and poisoning prevention policy in small groups at Tuesday's roundtable.

Another participant was Karen Ordinans, executive director of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin.

"Our belief is that we know the sources of lead poisoning. We know it's chipping paint on windows and porches, is the primary source. We know it can be water, we know it can be soil, trinkets, toy, etc. And our focus and our resources should really go to removing those sources. Testing is important, so we know where the children are and we can treat them," Ordinans says. "But until we devote resources to removing the source of the lead, we're not going to get very far."

Ariana Hones, with Wisconsin Conservation Voters, says the event brought together a room full of solutions. But she wants community members affected by the lead crisis be invited to the table.

"People are trying to work on this. They've been living with these problems for years and years. So, we know we need to be employing people to replace lead laterals but we don't necessarily have the funding to do it. I think there are a lot of solutions, we just need action," Hones says.

People lingered long after the roundtable – talking, sharing phone numbers and emails – including two people who on the surface might appear to belong in different camps.

Robert Penner, with Get the Lead Out Coalition, has relentlessly criticized Milwaukee leaders for not coming up with a comprehensive plan to remove and replace lead pipes. Penner was chatting with Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik who inherited a struggling department when she came on board a year ago.

READ: Lots Of Discussion But Little Agreement At City Meeting On Lead

"It gives me hope, because this is going to take a coordinated response, so the need for all of us to come together is extremely important," Kowalik says.

Penner chimed in — in agreement.

“It's great to hear that from the city and that some collective responsibility taken and just the presence of community oversight," Penner says.

READ: Milwaukee Health Department Headaches Seem Never-Ending

He's talking about the city of Milwaukee's new Board of Health. Kowalik says it will come up with the comprehensive lead removal plan Milwaukee has lacked.

The board meets next month on Nov. 12.

Kowalik and Penner agree, the community can and should be part of coming up with solutions to the city's lead challenge.

Tuesday was the League of Women Voters Of Milwaukee County's second lead issues in Milwaukee roundtable. The group is now deciding on its next step.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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