Council Launches Health Dept. Probe
In wake of Bevan Baker's ouster, council investigating Barrett administration decisions.
The Milwaukee Common Council has opened an investigation into the city’s Health Department and management of the city’s lead abatement efforts following the disclosure that the department possibly failed to notify 8,000 families of children testing positive for lead poisoning. The disclosure was made at a press conference last Friday afternoon, where a self-described “deeply disturbed” and “angry” Mayor Tom Barrett addressed the abrupt resignation of commissioner Bevan K. Baker.
The council’s Steering and Rules Committee, chaired by council president Ashanti Hamilton, will lead the investigation. The committee is holding a special meeting Wednesday afternoon and is expected to hold a discussion in closed session with representatives from the independent City Attorney’s office.
By formally opening an investigation the council now has subpoena power to compel individuals to appear before them.
Meanwhile, aldermen Tony Zielinski and Russell W. Stamper, II are pushing for a third-party audit of the entire Health Department. Zielinski said he has already had discussions with potential firms that could perform the audit and expects the council to move fast on the measure.
Zielinski, a candidate for mayor, said: “I think it’s important for us to identify what else could possibly be going on within that department.” The Bay View alderman said he would need more information to determine how long Barrett has been aware of issues in the Health Department, but added, “I do know that our efforts to get the Health Department to be more transparent were met with resistance, and I can only assume the Mayor’s office was fully aware of that and not supportive of our efforts to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
The alderman accused the city of failing to act on November 2017 council resolution that directs the Health Department to provide substantially more notice regarding methods to avoid lead exposure.
The program at the center of the issue, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, is responsible for handling the approximately 3,000 annual cases submitted to the city by health care providers that show elevated lead levels in Milwaukee children. But the city has no records to show it mailed notifications in approximately 8,000 such cases — to families of children with elevated lead levels — dating back to 2015.
During his press conference announcing the issue, Barrett noted that while the city has no record of sending the letters, the individuals that tested positive should have also received notice from the testing clinic. “The breakdown that got me upset was that I could not say with certainty to the people of Milwaukee that all of those individuals got that letter.” The city will now send the letters to every affected family.
The city’s website notes that as of 2015, 11.5 percent of Milwaukee children tested were reported to have blood lead levels at the reporting threshold of five micrograms per deciliter. The city reports that since 2003, the number of children testing positive at the five micrograms per deciliter level has declined by 70 percent.
The city has spent millions in abating lead paint issues, a common cause of lead poisoning, and is now shifting focus to also address the estimated 70,000 privately-owned lead laterals that connect properties to city water system. The shift comes after 2014 changes to Flint, Michigan’s drinking water caused a public health crisis.
Recent city budgets have allocated money to replace lines serving child care facilities and instituting policies that require the replacement of lead laterals in the event of a lateral break. Proceeds from a recent water sale agreement with the City of Waukesha will be used to help pay for replacing laterals.
Tuesday afternoon, members of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition held a press event outside of the mayor’s office and demanded Barrett’s resignation. “The removal of Commissioner Bevan Baker is not the end-all-be-all. It’s not even the peak of the iceberg. We have a massive coverup in this city over lead in our water,” said coalition leader Robert Miranda. The group has been critical of the city’s slow response to records requests and the city’s water testing methods.
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More about the Lead Service Lines
- City Hall: Mayor Allows Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2018
- City Hall: Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner? - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 14th, 2018
- City Hall: HUD Halts City Lead Treatment Program - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 12th, 2018
- From Dr. Patricia McManus: Comments clarified - Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton - Feb 9th, 2018
- Comments by newly appointed interim Health Department commissioner troubling - Ald. Michael Murphy - Feb 9th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Appoints McManus Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 6th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Withdraws Nannis Nomination - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2018
- FLAC Calls on Common Council to Confirm Dr. Patricia McManus as Interim Health Commissioner - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Feb 3rd, 2018
- Silence is Complicity – If You See Something, Please Say Something - Ald. Milele Coggs - Feb 2nd, 2018
- Gag Order for Health Department Employees Lifted by Mayor - Ald. Bob Donovan - Feb 1st, 2018
- Resolution Aims to Take Down Milwaukee Health Department’s Restrictive Communication Policy - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Feb 1st, 2018
- Common Council Alerts At-Risk Populations of Lead Risks After City of Milwaukee Health Department Fails to Notify Public - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 31st, 2018
- Key Details Missing from the Mayor’s Account of Lead Testing Crisis - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Jan 31st, 2018
- What We Really Need: Answers - Ald. Russell Stamper, II - Jan 31st, 2018
- The Administration has Lost the Common Council’s Confidence in Addressing the Lead Issue - Ald. Jose Perez - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Report Finds Health Dept. Problems - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Could Reject Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Aldermen Ask City Attorney for Legality of Paul Nannis’ position - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 29th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $750 Million to Replace Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 24th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Responds to Lead Crisis - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 23rd, 2018
- Legislation seeks lead service line replacement for city-owned properties - Ald. Bob Bauman - Jan 19th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Grills Mayor, City Health Staff - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Launches Health Dept. Probe - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Resolution calls for Milwaukee Water to give public lead updates - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Jan 17th, 2018
- Commissioner Baker’s departure leaves us all with many, many questions - Ald. Bob Donovan - Jan 16th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Ousts Bevan Baker Over Lead Fiasco - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 12th, 2018
- Health Department mistakes worsen city’s lead crisis - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Jan 12th, 2018
- Council set to act on Health Department crisis - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 12th, 2018
- Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) to Hold Press Conference After Announcement Of Firing Health Commissioner Bevan Baker - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Jan 12th, 2018
- Is City Dragging Feet on Lead Filters? - Jabril Faraj and Elliot Hughes - Jan 3rd, 2018
- Common Council Strengthens Lead Standards - Jabril Faraj - Dec 5th, 2017
- One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis - State Sen. Chris Larson - Oct 31st, 2017
- Advocates Push City On Lead Pipes - Jabril Faraj - Oct 25th, 2017
- Lead Poisoning a “Public Health Crisis” - Jabril Faraj - Jul 19th, 2017
- National Water Expert Retracts Criticism of City Health Department - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jul 14th, 2017
- Governor Walker Announces 35 Municipalities to Receive a Total of $13.8 Million to Remove Lead Service Lines - Gov. Scott Walker - Jun 28th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: WMC Opposes Lead Pipes Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 20th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Action Needed on Lead Pipes Problem - Chris Walker - Mar 12th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: How Milwaukee Handled “Flint” Crisis - Bruce Murphy - Jan 19th, 2017
- Tainted Water: State’s Failures On Lead Pipes - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Jan 15th, 2017
- Tainted Water: Lax Rules Expose Kids To Lead-Tainted Water - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Program Replaces Lead Laterals - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves Help For Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 13th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Delays on Lead Poisoning Issue - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 4th, 2016