Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

5 homes in 5 months — city’s slow response to lead safety


Only five homes with lead-poisoned children living in them were made lead safe by the City of Milwaukee during the first five months of the year.

Those five homes are among 46 properties where lead hazards were removed by or under the direction of the city between January and early June, according to informatio­n obtained through an open records request.

“That’s just unacceptab­le,” Ald. Michael Murphy said when provided the numbers.

“It’s very disappoint­ing, because where children are found with elevated blood levels in their home, those should be our No. 1 priorities,” Murphy said.

“We should be going into those homes and remediatin­g those cases as quickly as possible.”

The Milwaukee Health Department has been struggling for months.

Bevan Baker, the city’s former health commission­er, was ousted in January after news broke about problems with the agency’s programs aimed at preventing lead poisoning among Milwaukee children.

Patricia McManus has been serving as interim commission­er since February.

McManus did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Common Council is scheduled to vote next week on confirming Jeanette Kowalik as the new health commission­er. Mayor Tom Barrett picked Kowalik to lead the troubled agency in July.

A special Public Safety and Health Committee meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday to take up the appointmen­t, one day before the full Council is expected to meet.

Murphy said he hopes confirming Kowalik as the permanent commission­er will help build stability and improve the department’s ability to help people in need.

“All these promises were made, all these commitment­s, all these testimonie­s saying this was our priority. And the numbers don’t reflect that,” Murphy said. “It’s pretty shocking.”

In February, federal officials issued a “stop work order” for the city’s program aimed at reducing lead hazards in homes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmen­t at the time called on the city to immediatel­y cease work funded by its Lead Hazard Reduction grant, citing issues identified by a monitoring visit.

The letter said the issues, which included owners completing work found to be “noncomplia­nt and unsafe,” needed to be “addressed immediatel­y.”

The Health Department in February called it a “temporary pause.”

“We will work closely with HUD to implement processes that will allow us to better respond to and help families prevent lead poisoning in our community,” the department said at the time.

The agency’s problems go beyond its Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

The Journal Sentinel has also reported on troubles with Milwaukee’s cancer screening and family planning programs, as well as limits placed on its sexually transmitte­d infection testing.

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