Child Care Centers Still Have Lead Pipes
City has so far replaced lead service lines at 163 of 347 facilities.
Sixteen months after funding was made available to replace lead water service lines at each licensed child care facility in Milwaukee — at no cost to the property owner — 184 day care centers in the city are still operating with lead service lines.
“Despite all the shake-ups at the Health Department it still seems as if there isn’t a sense of urgency among some over there, sadly,” said Ald. Bob Donovan referring to the slow pace of the replacements.
“I’m sure it’s impacting our kids,” added Donovan, whose district has day care centers operating with lead water service lines.
In December 2016 the Common Council approved a budget that included funding to replace lead service lines at each licensed city child care facility. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is supplementing the funding. In June 2017, 385 child care centers were eligible for a full replacement at a cost of $13,100 each, though that number has now dropped to 347, according to Sandy Rusch Walton, communications manager for the Department of Public Works (DPW). The number fluctuates as day care centers open and close, she said. Of the 347, 184 were operating with lead water service lines as of April 6.
Forty-eight of the 184 have not responded to outreach from the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) or MWW regarding the free replacements. The remaining 136 had either scheduled appointments with MWW or the replacement work had been bid out to contractors, according to Rusch Walton. Forty-six replacements are currently under contract, 40 have gone out to bid, and 50 day care centers have scheduled home visits with MWW, she added.
“The sooner we replace the (lead service) lines at day cares the better. The quicker that happens the quicker we remediate one area of concern,” said Bohl, who also remarked on the apparent lack of urgency to complete the replacements.
Day care centers are not required to replace their lead water service lines, according to Angela Hagy, director of disease control and environmental health at MHD.
Lead water pipes have been found to decay and cause lead contamination in tap water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lead exposure can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in young children and also harm adults, states the CDC. Last year Mayor Tom Barrett urged Milwaukee residents living in a building constructed prior to 1951, which were typically constructed with lead water lines, to purchase a faucet filter. About 70,000 Milwaukee residents are served by lead laterals, according to DPW data.
The city sent a letter in June to property owners where day care centers are located informing them that it would pay to replace lead water service lines to reduce children’s exposure to lead. The letter also stated that children under the age of 6 are most vulnerable to lead poisoning and that no amount of exposure to lead is safe. According to that letter, lead is not present in drinking water provided by MWW and it meets all federal guidelines for safety. However, when water stands in fixtures or pipes that contain lead, lead may dissolve into the water, it stated.
According to data provided by MWW, the majority of licensed child care centers operating with lead service lines are located on the North Side, including District 7, which has the most, and District 15, which has the second highest number.
“More needs to be done to protect our children,” said Ald. Russell W. Stamper II, who represents District 15. Eleven child care centers in his district have not responded to city outreach efforts and 24 have either gone to bid or have scheduled appointments with MWW. Nineteen lead service line replacements occurred at child care centers in Stamper’s district in 2017.
A Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service investigation found that disorganized outreach efforts and inefficient record keeping by MHD, MWW and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families have hindered the replacements.
The health department manages outreach to child care facilities and is the initial point of contact, according to Rusch Walton. However, both MHD and MWW are coordinating the lead line removals. NNS found several instances in which day care operators said they never knew the property was eligible for a free replacement and only were informed of the opportunity to pick up free water filters provided by MHD. Several property owners also claimed they never were told that they were eligible to receive a full replacement of lead water service lines at no cost. Property owners must provide consent to conduct the lead service line replacement.
Krystal Rouse, owner of Christyle’s Little Learners, 2442 N. 54th St., said she was offered a water filter in late 2017 and nothing else. Jose M. Castro, who owns the property, said he’d never been contacted by anyone from MHD, but would be happy to have the work done. Rouse said that her center serves 10 children.
“If they’re going to do something at no cost for the owner that’s fine for me. Maybe they sent (a letter) over to the (day care) and never sent it to me,” said Castro in Spanish. According to information included in an email sent to the aldermen by Jennifer Gonda, superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works, MHD was not able to coordinate a replacement at Little Learners because it had no contact information for Castro. NNS was able to quickly contact Castro after Rouse provided his phone number.
Tabitha Garner, owner of Touching Tender Hearts, 2523 N. 14th St., also said she was offered free water filters from MHD and picked them up in October. Garner, who doesn’t own the building but said she’s been running a child care center there for 25 years, said she was not told the property was eligible for a full replacement. MHD has since reached the owner of the property, Will Sherard, who stated that he wants something in writing confirming that the replacement is free before he agrees to the project, according to notes included with the data sent to council members.
“If we reach a child care facility owner we offer a filter … and ask for the contact information for the property owner to begin the process of getting the facility set up for replacement,” stated Jean Schultz, environmental and disease control specialist at MHD. “The issue has primarily been with facilities where the child care owner is responsive, but the property owner is not. We continue to reach out to these owners by whatever means we have.”
MHD does not track which day care operators have picked up free water filters or those who said they have their own filter, she added.
Stamper acknowledged the challenge of getting permission from property owners to conduct a replacement. He said he and Ald. Milele Coggs have requested that the city attorney look into mandating that owners of properties where day care centers are located have their lead laterals replaced.
Legislation mandating a replacement would not please Michele Quin Wright, owner of Mae Quin’s Family Learn Center, 3703 N. 24th Pl. Wright said the day care center, which is run out of her home, serves between six and eight children a day. She acknowledged being contacted by MHD but said she didn’t want the free replacement.
The initial outreach in 2017, consisting of phone calls to Wright and other child care operators, met with limited success, according to Rusch Walton. That effort was followed by sending a letter to property owners in June. Subsequent contacts included phone calls and a strongly worded letter that the department planned to send last month, she said.
Schultz said that property owners — not child care operators — are the first point of contact for MHD. In many cases, MHD was unable to contact either the day care owner or the property owner, as up-to-date contact information was missing from the records provided to MHD by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF).
DCF, which licenses all child care facilities in the state, is in charge of collecting contact information from applicants, according to Gina Paige, outreach specialist for DCF. Once the facility is licensed, the owners are responsible for letting DCF know of any changes, she stated. Paige said that DCF performs annual inspections to assess compliance with requirements and determine whether information is current. However, it’s not clear when the last inspection of information provided by licensed child care centers in Milwaukee was conducted. Many of the day care centers NNS attempted to contact had phone numbers that were no longer in service.
Another major issue with MHD outreach efforts, according to Bohl, Stamper and Donovan, is that the department never conducted personal visits to any of the day care centers, including those that failed to respond to phone calls or letters and those whose contact information was not up to date.
“There’s been no management, poor management and disjointed efforts at the Health Department and we are now reaping what we sow,” Donovan said.
The data included in the email Gonda sent to Donovan and the other alderman in March contained a list of child care centers that had not responded to phone calls or letters, and invited assistance in reaching them. Donovan, who said he didn’t realized he’d been sent a list until informed of it by an NNS reporter, nevertheless said that the onus is on the Health Department to take the extra step.
“They (MHD) ought to be conducting personal visits to the day cares and visiting the homes of these property owners,” he added.
NNS visited six day care centers that had not responded to MHD or MWW. In each case, someone — including several day care operators who were also the property owners — answered the door. Asked why they hadn’t responded to outreach and whether they understood that the property was eligible for a free lead water service line replacement, most stated that they’d recently been contacted to begin the process of scheduling a replacement — after NNS asked MHD about its outreach efforts to day care centers. Some stated that they had their own filters and others said they only used bottled water at the day care centers.
NNS also spoke with several day care owners who said they’d misplaced or failed to fully understand the communications by MHD and MWW. A women who identified herself as the owner of The Learning Factory Childcare LLC, 4235 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., which is on the list of day care centers that had not responded to MHD outreach, said her pipes were repaired and hung up. Some property owners claimed that they had given the okay for the replacement and were still waiting to be contacted by MHD. MHD spokesperson Janalle Goosby said she could not provide details regarding specific licensed child care facilities.
“The Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) is continuing to work with all licensed childcare facilities to make sure that ALL of them have their lead lines replaced,” said Goosby in an email.
According to Bohl, there is much room for improvement in coordinating the outreach to day care centers regarding lead water service lines. For example, the city should look into how many certified child care facilities have lead laterals. Certified facilities are different than licensed day care centers, and can only serve up to three children under age 7 who are unrelated to the provider.
Bohl said he worries that all the focus on lead water service lines could be distracting residents from even larger sources of lead in the community. For example, he stated that lead levels at MPS should be addressed, because of the plumbing at older schools.
“Some of those lead levels at MPS were dangerously high and the source in many cases wasn’t a lead service line,” Bohl said.
Earlier last week, Barrett said that paint is still the primary source of lead poisoning in Milwaukee children and implied that the emphasis on lead in the water is misplaced.
Despite differing viewpoints on where the city’s anti-lead efforts should be focused and the history of disarray within MHD, Donovan said the appointment of Patricia McManus as interim health commissioner in February should help address these issues.
“We’re hopeful that she can turn things around,” Donovan said.
Stamper said he is planning to introduce legislation that would engage community groups on the South Side and North Side to visit each each day care center as well as houses where children with elevated lead levels live to pass out free water filters and information on health services in the community.
“There are many issues we need to remediate regarding lead exposure in our city,” Stamper said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and coordination but there’s no question that more needs to be done.”
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
More about the Lead Service Lines
- Common Council approves full lead hazard review for city-owned properties - Ald. Jose Perez - May 8th, 2018
- Legislation mandates lead water lines replacement at child care facilities - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 26th, 2018
- Child Care Centers Still Have Lead Pipes - Edgar Mendez - Apr 23rd, 2018
- Legislation looks to local source for water infrastructure needs - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 4th, 2018
- ‘10thirtysix ’ to re-ring the alarm bell on milwaukee’s lead crisis - Milwaukee PBS - Mar 27th, 2018
- Chief of Staff Comment on FLAC - Patrick Curley - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Evers Demands Action on Wisconsin’s Drinking Water Crisis - Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2018
- Op Ed: How City Should Solve Lead in Water - Noelle Chesley, Anne Dressel, John Berges, and Helen Meier - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Alderman Bohl: A better strategy is needed in dealing with lead laterals - Ald. Jim Bohl - Feb 26th, 2018
- City Hall: McManus Lays Out Three Priorities for Health Department - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Leading on Lead Act into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 21st, 2018
- 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