Reducing Exposure To Lead: Workshop Wednesday Aims To Help Milwaukee Families

Mar 20, 2018

Milwaukee has a lead problem. Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers isn't waiting for city leaders to come up with a comprehensive plan, instead it is holding workshops to inform families how to better protect themselves.

Their second Lead-Safe Home Workshop will take place this Wednesday, March 21 from 6 to 8 pm at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, just off 27th Street on Center.

The workshop series is designed not to overwhelm families, but to equip them with common sense advice. A week ago at Sixteenth Streets' first workshop at South Division High School, families stopped at different stations to hear experts discuss:

Lead And Health

The workshop kicks off with Pediatrician Marcos De La Cruz, Sixteenth Street’s lead clinical medical director.
Credit Susan Bence

Dr. Marcos De La Cruz explains that even minimal exposure to lead can impact a young child’s brain development and nervous system.

“Early brain development in the first two to three years is vital," he says. "That’s the key period where their maximum brain growth is occurring and what we do know is that lead seems to have an effect (including) that child’s learning ability.

De La Cruz says parents often don’t notice the impacts when a child is young. “When they enter into school is when we’re going to pick up on these kids because the teachers are going to learn they’re not keeping up with their peers."

Lead’s long term affects include kidney damage. De La Cruz explains, “Especially for adults who later on have conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. Those things together with the damage they may have experienced as children, those people tend to have more problems with their health."

Lead In Paint
Carmen Reinmund is Sixteenth Street’s lead outreach program coordinator.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Lead paint is common in Milwaukee’s old housing stock.

“When it starts peeling and chipping (children) are at high risk, because it’s going to start spreading dust and pieces of lead that is inside the paint,” Carmen Reinmund says. She's Sixteenth Street's lead outreach program coordinator.

On April 4, Sixteenth Street is holding a workshop specifically focused on teaching lead-safe practices for home renovations.


Lead In Soil
Alejandra Hernandez (far right) guides families through information about lead in soil.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Years ago, lead was not only incorporated into paint, but other items such as gasoline. Both can contaminate soil outside families homes.

For example, a child playing outside may well have come into contact with lead-contaminated soil.

What to do: Wash your child’s hands thoroughly with soapy water as soon as he/she comes indoors. 

It’s not just kids playing in the dirt who are at risk of lead exposure, but grown-up gardeners as well.

Tony Velez with Walnut Way Conservation Corp. shared information about proper gardening gear and composting during the workshop.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

What to do: Wear gloves and boots, or old tennis shoes when gardening and store them outside your home.

“The other thing that is a problem is the lead dust that you don’t really see on your fruit and vegetables... and you might consume,” Alejandra Hernandez says. She lead the lead in soil session.

What to do: Thoroughly wash and/or peel garden produce, especially leafy and root vegetables, which are more likely to have soil particles on their surfaces.

Sixteenth Street partners with organizations such as the Milwaukee Health Department to help people get their soil tested, and Walnut Way Conservation Corp. to teach families to nourish their soil by composting;

Lead In Water

The workshop shares these best practices to reduce exposure to lead in water if you have a lead service line:

- Best defense, install a certified drinking filter for lead removal.

- If you don't have a filter, flush your plumbing AT LEAST 3 minutes or longer. If you don’t run it long enough, you may expose your family to more lead.

- Drink and cook ONLY with cold water tap; hot water can absorb more heavy metals, including lead.

- Remove and clean out aerators (the small screen at the end of the faucet) by unscrewing and rinse once a month.

One team covers nutrition while in the background another discusses lead in water.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

An iron-rich diet is suggested. When children are iron-deficient, biochemical gaps are created in their bones and blood, which lead can fill.

Foods rich in calcium, Vitamin C and iron help prevent lead absorption. Sixteenth Street recommends children should eat more green vegetables, fruit, raisins, milk, yogurt and cheese, beans/peas, chicken and fish; and LESS foods high in fat.

A poor diet makes it easier for lead to remain in the body.

Filters & Testing

Kelly Moore-Brands (left) and UW medical student Erin Nacez distribute filters.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

At the workshop at South Division High School, as well as the upcoming workshop at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum, families who meet the following criteria receive free water filters:

- Live in house with a lead service line. The workshop team helps families look up their addresses.

- Fall within vulnerable population: Children 6 or younger, someone who is pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy in the near future.

Members of Sixteenth Street’s medical team also provide blood lead testing for children six and younger. Older children can be tested if a sibling has had elevated test results.

Parents are then called with the results, and if a child's test comes back at five micrograms per deciliter or higher - a home visit is set up.

Mother of three, Roxanna Coeto (far left) says she learned a lot - that her home has lead service lines, lead can be found in dust and soil. She had her kids tested and headed home to install their new water filter.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

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