'I am not happy': Aldermen angry about continuing problems in city's lead poisoning prevention program

’I am not happy’: Aldermen angry about continuing problems in city’s lead poisoning prevention program

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee's lead poisoning prevention program is under fire, after it was revealed the department mismanaged a lead poisoning case in May of 2021.

The health department was ordered to fully review the case. Those findings were presented to the city's Public Safety and Health Committee on Thursday. Officials say an inspector was sent to the home of a lead poisoned child to find and abate the sources of lead. The inspector missed paint on the trim of a garage and failed to test soil, which is required as part of the abatement process.

"How we handle lead abatement has been completely disappointing to me," said Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic at Thursday's meeting.

During Thursday's meeting, aldermen asked if the family was moved to the city's temporary housing while the abatement work was completed. The head of the health department's home environmental health program seemed unaware of that housing.

"I am not happy," said Ald. Chantia Lewis, after explaining the housing program to the health department worker. "This is balls dropping left and right and not even utilizing the tools set in place for this exact place."

The case is renewing scrutiny of the city's lead program. Red flags about the program first came to light in 2018. It was discovered that several cases of lead poisoned kids were mismanaged. The problems led the resignation of then health commissioner Bevan Baker. His departure was followed by several leadership changes including two interim health commissioners and two permanent commissioners. Current Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson took over in February of 2021.

"We need to deeply understand how the program is implemented and then we need to identify what are our metrics and expectations are, because I don’t think those have been outlined," Johnson said Thursday.

Health officials say an audit of the program that was previously scheduled for the fall will begin immediately.

The council is also considering designating millions from the COVID stimulus package to abate lead hazards in homes.

Ald. Dimitrijevic says the city needs to be proactive and abate hazardous homes before children are poisoned. She wants to replicate a program started in Cleveland called Lead Safe.

"It [the program] works with landlords and it goes ahead and creates an environment where properties are tested proactively," Ald. Dimitrijevic said, "Wouldn’t we want to know about the walls and paint and soil before it gets to a child’s blood?"

In 2018, when the lead problems came to light, a criminal investigation was launched. On Thursday Ald. Perez said he reached out to Attorney General Josh Kaul for an update on that investigation because so far, no information has bene released.

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