Forum Examines Lead Poisoning Prevention
Solutions? Issue of lead paint vs lead pipes still debated.
Wisconsin is 48th out of 50 states in per capita public health spending, which makes it challenging to address the problem of lead poisoning in Milwaukee, according to Helen Meier, an assistant professor at UW-Milwaukee’s Zilber School of Public Health.
“How are we going to address serious health inequities when we’re 48th out of 50?” she asked, speaking to a group of about 50 people at a recent public forum on lead issues hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV).
Lack of sufficient resources is among the barriers to lead poisoning prevention in the city, Meier said, noting that community members and the local government must work together to address these barriers.
In addition to LWV members, the audience included representatives of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) and Get the Lead Out Coalition. With presenters from the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD), Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and UW-Milwaukee, the goal of the forum was to provide information from a variety of perspectives and encourage lead prevention advocacy.
“We wanted to bring together groups to move forward on the lead issue,” said Carol Diggelman, who organized the event. “We all need to advocate for evidence-based actions and policies.”
Carmen Reinmund, lead outreach program coordinator at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, stressed the importance of engaging families in high-risk areas through education, including teaching them about lead safety and water filters.
Residents should also advocate for more research in Milwaukee, Meier recommended. Researchers have studied causes of lead poisoning nationwide, statewide and in Madison, but not as extensively in Milwaukee, considering how prevalent the issue is in the city, she said.
At least 2,851 children under the age of 6 in 2016 had elevated blood lead levels, according to city data. A 2014 Wisconsin Department of Health Services report shows that nearly half of the children who tested positive for lead in the state are black.
The Milwaukee Health Department estimates that removing every lead service line and making every building in the city lead-safe would cost nearly $2 billion. Without that much money available, the city has taken a targeted approach, focusing on children under 6, lead paint hazards, areas with high poisoning burdens and those with lower incomes, according to MHD public health planner Michael Stevenson.
The city has allocated $20 million in its 2019 budget for lead-risk reduction. In the short term, MHD plans on abating lead-based paint hazards and providing cleaning kits to the most at-risk areas.
“We need to be coming from a health equity framework and focusing our resources on the most vulnerable among us,” Meier said.
She added that institutional trust must be improved. Former Health Department commissioner Bevan Baker resigned after it became known that thousands of residents were not contacted when their children tested positive for lead. Now with a new health commissioner and case tracking systems in place, MHD is hoping to regain the public’s confidence, said Stevenson.
“We are doing our best to rebuild this program,” Stevenson said. Jeanette Kowalik was confirmed by the Common Council as the city’s health commissioner in September.
Robert Penner, a member of the Get the Lead Out Coalition, said he thinks the department’s efforts “are a good step forward,” but he remains skeptical about the city’s intentions.
“What concerns me most is that we don’t all necessarily share all the same information,” she said.
The Health Department has long argued that lead paint is the main cause of lead poisoning in the city, while advocacy groups such as FLAC and the Get the Lead Out Coalition believe that lead in the water is the primary cause
According to the city, in February 2018, there were 76,244 lead service lines in Milwaukee. The city has replaced 764 lines so far this year.
Of 121,240 houses that were built before 1978, when paint containing lead was banned, the city has made 18,147 of them lead-safe. Homes built before the 1950s are reported to likely have lead-based paint and lead laterals or plumbing.
In an opinion piece for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Yanna Lambrinidou and Paul Biedrzycki wrote, “Framing the argument as ‘paint vs. water’ reduces a complex problem to distracting finger-pointing, obfuscates what is known and not known about different exposure pathways, and leaves residents sub-optimally equipped to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from preventable exposures.”
They also point out that “a growing body of evidence suggests that both paint and water are implicated in childhood lead poisoning.” Lambrinidou is a founding member of the Campaign for Lead Free Water and Biedrzycki formerly served as a director at the City of Milwaukee Health Department.
Everyone agrees that no amount of lead exposure is safe. Elevated blood lead levels are associated with permanent neurological and behavioral disorders, especially in young children. Lead also poses a risk to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age.
“There needs to be more cooperation between people who think paint is the issue and that water is the issue,” Penner said. “We need to come together to come to a consensus.”
Reinmund added, “It’s everyone’s problem. We have a lot of work to do.”
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 Crisis
- A statement from Alderman Terry L. Witkowski following the March 22 special Public Safety and Health Committee meeting - Ald. Terry Witkowski - Mar 22nd, 2019
- City Hall: FLAC, Get the Lead Out Fight City Over Lead Posioning - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 22nd, 2019
- Special meeting devoted to lead in water issues will feature city departments - Ald. Bob Donovan - Mar 20th, 2019
- City Hall: Council Approves Civilian Health Oversight Board - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2019
- Marquette University to host Flint water crisis author Anna Clark - Marquette University - Jan 18th, 2019
- Lead-Free Homes a Priority for Kowalik - Corri Hess - Jan 17th, 2019
- Council approves legislation concerning the Milwaukee Health Department’s lead reporting processes and water filter distribution plans - Ald. Milele Coggs - Jan 15th, 2019
- Forum Examines Lead Poisoning Prevention - Abby Ng - Nov 30th, 2018
- City Hall: City’s Lead Program is Working Again - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 16th, 2018
- League of Women Voters – Nov. 17 Public Program Addressing Lead Issues: A Milwaukee Focus - League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County - Nov 5th, 2018
- Citizens deserve to hear from Bevan Baker in public proceeding - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Oct 22nd, 2018
- Milwaukee’s Young Children Need to Be the Focus - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Sep 24th, 2018
- City Hall: Baker To Testify Before Common Council - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 14th, 2018
- Warning Residents of Lead Dangers - Jenny Whidden - Jul 18th, 2018
- Governor Walker Administration Awards More Than $26 Million for Lead Service Line Replacement in 42 Wisconsin Communities - Gov. Scott Walker - Jul 18th, 2018
- Environmental Review of City of Milwaukee Project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jul 9th, 2018
- Environmental review of City of Milwaukee project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jun 26th, 2018
- 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 - Gov. 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