lead

Erin Cadigan / stock.adobe.com

Milwaukee aldermen are in the process of sorting out the city’s budget for next year, divvying up dollars leaders say are increasingly scarce. Among public concerns, an increasing number of people want more funding to go to the city’s health department, specifically to serve children impacted by lead poisoning.

READ: Mayor Tom Barrett's Budget Proposal Cuts 120 Milwaukee Police Officers

When Lori Lightfoot became the mayor of Chicago this year, it marked a lot of "firsts."

Lightfoot is, of course, Chicago's first African American woman, and openly gay mayor.

But she is also the city's first chief executive to acknowledge that the hundreds of thousands of lead pipes that deliver water to Chicago homes — called lead service lines — are a problem.

Susan Bence

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.

Dmitry Naumov / stock.adobe.com

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks it's come up with a good formula to better protect Americans from lead in drinking water, calling it a major and much-needed overhaul. Officials unveiled the proposal Thursday in Green Bay. But concern is already bubbling up among those who feel the EPA changes aren't stringent enough.

Susan Bence

There's been a lot of talk about Milwaukee efforts to shore up its childhood lead program and remove old lead pipes that feeds drinking water to tens of thousands of homes in the city.

Now, Milwaukee County hopes a proposed initiative will help risks found in foreclosed homes. 

The idea is to create a small, revolving loan fund to help county residents remove lead hazards — both paint and old lead service lines – when they buy a foreclosed home from the county.

Susan Bence

Preston Cole is one step away from officially heading the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

While he awaits a State Senate vote on his assignment, the secretary-designee says there’s no time to waste when it comes to addressing Wisconsin’s drinking water concerns. Cole is optimistic solutions will be found. 

Momentum began when Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water.

Susan Bence

When a child tests high for lead, Milwaukee’s health department mobilizes. A nurse begins conferring with the family while an inspector looks for sources of lead in the home.

Thursday during the Public Safety and Health Committee meeting, Alderman Jose Perez said he wants to make sure that those families living in rental properties can’t be evicted by their landlords.

Perez says he and his colleagues have been hearing from concerned Milwaukee residents.

Emily Files

In what's being called the first verdict of its kind, a federal jury Friday awarded $2 million each to three young Milwaukee men who suffered severe lead contamination.

The plaintiffs range in age from 18 to 28, but the poisoning occurred when they were toddlers. They ingested lead paint and today the men have trouble with reading comprehension, their lawyer says.

katie wheeler / Flickr

The battle between Democrats and Republicans over the next two-year state budget is in full swing.

Tuesday, members of the Joint Committee on Finance voted unanimously on several measures meant to improve water quality. They included Gov. Tony Evers' plan to borrow $13.5 million for the clean water program and $3.6 million for the safe drinking water loan program.

» Tony Evers Chats About Wisconsin's 'Year Of Clean Drinking Water'

Susan Bence

WUWM recently explored the challenges southeastern Wisconsin experiences in ensuring clean water to its citizens. Project Milwaukee: Great Lakes, Troubled Waters asked: with so much of the world’s freshwater right next to us, why is access such an issue?

One problem has been lead in the water supply of many old homes, which have lead lateral lines. Lead is also a problem in old paint in homes and the soil around houses.

Emily Files

In Milwaukee, more than 10% of children test positive for dangerous lead levels in their blood.

Health experts say the most common culprit is lead paint in old homes. But water that travels through lead pipes also poses some risk. Lead lateral pipes connect at least 70,000 older homes in Milwaukee to the city's water mains.

Susan Bence

For months Milwaukee’s health department has been trying to dig itself out of a muddle, while city leaders continue to try to figure out what went wrong.

Problems became public in early 2018 when health commissioner Bevan Baker resigned. At the same time, the community learned that the childhood lead program – long a source of pride among city leaders – was in disarray.

Susan Bence

What was different about Friday’s meeting than the many before it was that community members and city department leaders were equal participants at the Public Safety and Health Committee session.

Chairman Bob Donovan said he was hoping for some resolution. The city has been at odds with activists for several years over the city’s response to the risks of lead in lateral pipes that carry city water into private property.

HEMVALA40/FOTOLIA

It’s been more than two years since Milwaukee’s lead service line replacement mandate went into effect. Yet questions persist and priorities are questioned.

READ: Milwaukee Common Council approves Lead Water Pipe Replacement Ordinance

Wednesday during the city’s Public Works Committee, Ald. Bob Bauman was looking for answers.

Susan Bence

The Get The Lead Out Coalition and the Freshwater For Life Action Coalition had been looking forward to formally sharing what they consider compelling evidence to Milwaukee city leaders for weeks. They insist contamination caused lead pipes through which more than 70,000 homes receive city water is as important a threat to public health as lead in paint.

Screenshot/YouTube/Milwaukee Water Works

Clean drinking water has become a topic of conversation throughout the U.S. - from arid states worrying about sufficient quantities, to rust belt cities grappling with failing infrastructure and old lead pipes.

While the Great Lakes represent one of the world’s largest freshwater systems, its cities are not immune from concerns about drinking water.

 

George Thomas/Flickr

Detroit-based journalist Anna Clark's recently-published book The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy is a a deep dive into the public health crisis that continues to reverberate in Flint, Mich.

Clark was in Milwaukee Wednesday talking about her research at Marquette University. She hopes other communities can avoid the tragedy that struck Flint where children's health had already been permanently impacted before the city took action.

Susan Bence

Environmental issues cascaded throughout the last year. Scientific updates about climate change and issues around safe drinking water barely scratch the surface of concerns affecting people’s lives and health. So, let’s review some of the complex environmental issues that fueled debate in 2018.

READ: How Did Wisconsin's Waters Fare In 2018

Among the environmental issues cascading throughout the last year in the Milwaukee area, the issue of lead was inescapable.

Hunger Task Force

Long before Bevan Baker resigned as public health commissioner in January, the agency said it was taking appropriate steps to educate families how to protect themselves from lead in paint, soil and water. While the city of Milwaukee posted information on its website, placed ads on buses, and mailed leaflets with water bills, some community groups worried word wasn’t getting out to families.

Susan Bence

Update 3:15 P.M.

Bevan Baker did not appear before the Steering & Rules Committee meeting Thursday, but committee chair Ashanti Hamilton said the former health commissioner will participate in a public hearing. Hamilton didn't announce the hearing date. He said council members needed to be briefed by the city attorney.

Screenshot/City of Milwaukee

Jeanette Kowalik was voted in as the City of Milwaukee's public health commissioner Wednesday. There were no votes of opposition.

In January, news broke that its once–touted childhood lead contamination prevention program was grossly mismanaged. A heartbeat later, health commissioner Bevan Baker resigned.

Based on the candidate’s reception at a special meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee Tuesday, Kowalik’s prospects appeared bright.

Kowalik told aldermen she feels she was called home to take on the role.

Eddee Daniel

What started as conversations five years ago evolved into Milwaukee Water Commons. While science and business opportunities were important in those initial discussions, the group wanted to broaden their reach to get the entire community involved in protecting a common resource — water.

Susan Bence

The Freshwater For Life Action Coalition, or FLAC, says it has information that amplifies concerns about Milwaukee's health department, and how the mayor's office has handled the problems.

FLAC wants the Common Council to dig deeper including by forcing the following people to testify before the Public Safety and Health Committee:

Susan Bence

UPDATE: The Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) said during a press conference Friday it found no surprises in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services report. FLAC spokesperson Robert Miranda added,  "Nothing new came out of ciy hall either....We've know that these families have not been treated, have not been provided the services that the state paid for, but yet we have not received any word from city hall or the health department stating what they have tried to do to find these families and help these families."

Susan Bence

Some Milwaukeeans are raising new concerns about the potential health risks associated with lead. Critics point to a cluster of infant deaths in the 15th Aldermanic District and think contaminated water might be to blame.

Curt Czarnecki, P.E., Kenosha Water Utility

The Kenosha Common Council recently passed an ordinance that requires homeowners to replace their lead laterals when the city initiates a project. Because this can be expensive, Kenosha aims to set up a grant and loan system to help homeowners.

Water utility manager Ed St. Peter has been working on the idea for a while, saying he wants to expeditiously replace every inch of the city’s 8,800 lead lines that connect homes to water mains.

Susan Bence

Just like Milwaukee, thousands of lead service lines deliver water from the main into Wauwatosa households. Wauwatosa's public works director David Simpson estimates nearly 10,000 of its 15,000 customers have lead pipes feeding water into their homes.

Simpson says Wauwatosa recently changed its policy surrounding pipes that break. “If we have a break on the city-owned lateral, we’ll go in and replace the entire city-owned side.” Before that, he says, city crews simply repaired the break.

Curt Czarnecki

It’s hard to get away from discussions about lead in Milwaukee this days. Meet two people who understand the issues but have lingering concerns.

Carol Hayes – Riverwest Resident

Like many people, Carol Hayes’ awareness of the risks associated with lead in water date back the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

She was quite sure her duplex, built in 1924, had lead service lines, but had trouble sorting out how best to filter her water and that of her upstairs tenants.

Susan Bence

Longtime Milwaukee Health Department employee Lisa Lien, who coordinated the city’s struggling childhood lead program, has been suspended.

Just hours before that news broke Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett held a press event on the topic of lead but didn't say a word about Lien.

She worked in various capacities at the health department for 26 years; nine years ago assuming leadership of its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

The group Freshwater For Life Action Coalition formed out of concern about Milwaukee’s lead in water problem. FLAC spokesperson Robert Miranda requested records from January 2015 through 2017 of meetings Mayor Barrett held with the Milwaukee Health Department. He wanted to determine how frequently the mayor was updated on the health department’s progress in informing the public.

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