Susan Bence

Milwaukee Health Dept. 'Failed to Ensure Adequate Notification' of Elevated Lead Levels in Kids

Updated 1/12/18 5:20 p.m. The City of Milwaukee health department is under fire -- amid a management shake-up. It became public Friday afternoon that the department failed to properly notify thousands of families, whose children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. It also became public that health commissioner Bevan Baker has left his post. But well before the news broke about the department not sharing lead testing results, Baker had been facing growing criticism. Advocacy groups have blasted him for how the city has been handling the risk of lead in drinking water. For the last two years, lead in drinking water has been one of the most serious issues the Milwaukee health department has been tasked with addressing. The problem is in older homes that are served by so-called "lateral" pipes that connect the homes to the city's water mains. The laterals in older homes are made of lead, which can flake off as the pipes age -- and flow into the water that people drink. Advocacy groups argued the health department wasn't aggressive enough in spreading the word about the risk of ingesting lead flakes -- or the importance of installing filters on faucets. They also criticized the content of the health department's public education campaign. Health Commissioner Bevan Baker consistently maintained the department was doing everything it could. But it became public Friday afternoon that at the same time, Baker's department was failing to alert thousands of families that their children tested positive for elevated lead levels. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says he found out about the problems earlier this week. “I am angry, disappointed and I am actively working with department staff to fix it right now,” Barrett says. Barrett says that every year, around 25,000 kids in Milwaukee are tested for lead. Typically, around 3,000 test positive for elevated levels. The health department receives those results and is one of the parties tasked with notifying families and following up with them. Barrett says it's not clear whether the health department consistently followed the procedure. He says he'll make sure the families affected get word about the test results. The Mayor adds, in light of the problem, he and Bevan Baker agreed -- it was time for the health commissioner to leave his post. Members of the Milwaukee Common Council say they'll hold the mayor's administration responsible for the -- quote -- "egregious public health failure." All fifteen aldermen released a statement, expressing their displeasure with the situation. Ald. Tony Zielinski calls it "very distressing." We're talking about the most vulnerable population in our community. We as a city have a responsibility to look out for their welfare and obviously that hasn't happened in this particular situation so there's going to be some serious consequences. Aldermen say they'll begin an investigation next week, to determine what processes and procedures were ignored. Meanwhile, the groups that were critical of former health commissioner Baker say they're pleased to see him go. Sherrie Tussler is executive director of the Hunger Task Force. It's been fighting lead poisoning on a number of fronts -- including pushing for a resolution to require the health department to change the language in its informational campaign. Tussler says the commissioner had been hindering the progress: “Hunger Taskforce has been advocating for full explanations on the causes of blood poisoning in Milwaukee since last February. And the Commissioner Bevan baker has not been forthcoming to try to share information,” Tussler says. Tussler says Baker's departure indicates to her that there's recognition from the mayor's office that the city must be more proactive in educating people about lead -- specifically -- the risk of lead in water.

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A Magnificent Obsession

Apr 22, 2008

Aldo Leopold was a legendary environmentalist and forester. He spent almost two decades working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Southwest. Throughout his life Leopold loved observing, journaling and sketching his surrounding. That didn’t change when he transferred to work in Madison, Wisconsin.

Nina Leopold Bradley was a young girl in 1935, when her father Aldo invited his family on the adventure of a lifetime. A ramshackle farm caught his eye near the Wisconsin River, not far from Baraboo.

Ralph and Terry Kovel are famous names in the world of antiques and collectibles.

Ralph was born in Milwaukee; when his family moved to Ohio, he met Terry Horvitz on a blind date. The couple's career took off in 1953 with the publication of their first "catalog" called Kovels' Dictionary of Marks. Their success lead to a newspaper column, television show and more.

WUWM's Susan Bence met Terry Kovel when she was in town for a home and garden show at State Fair Park.

Connie and Gordon Lee adopted four bi-racial children in the 1960s.

WUWM’s Susan Bence visited with the family on Christmas Eve and produced a sound portrait. We first heard the Lees' story in a Milwaukee StoryCorps interview that aired on Lake Effect last October, and much earlier, in a 1966 article in the Milwaukee Journal.

We meet Sylvia Bernstein. She was born here 83 years ago. Her parents had fled a small Ukranian village and started their American life in central Wisconsin, before settling in Milwaukee.

WUWM’s Susan Bence talked with Bernstein in her home, where she talked about her newspaper career. Bernstein says it took a lot of guts; that’s because she didn’t have a journalism degree.

A Frigid Night 40 Years Ago

Dec 17, 2007

WUWM Morning Edition host Bob Bach shares a story of a frigid Milwaukee night more than 40 years ago. Bach grew up in Milwaukee near 83rd and Locust. The irresistible girlfriend who drew him across town on that winter evening was Joan, his wife of 35 years.

Cynthia Akey

WUWM's Project Milwaukee: Creating A Vibrant Regional Economy forum was held on Thursday, November 15th, 2007 at the UWM School of Continuing Education.

The 90-minute community forum brought together community leaders and the public to discuss issues of economic development, growth, and jobs in the Milwaukee region.Bob Bach and Jane Hampden served as moderators.

Susan Bence collected some of the comments made during that discussion.

Panelists included:

Public Policy Forum

Nov 16, 2007

Jeffrey Brown is president of Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum. He talks with Jane Hampden about government redundancy, education and Wisconsin taxes in the final interview of Lake Effect’s Project Milwaukee series.

Regional 'Cooperation' in southeastern Wisconsin

Nov 15, 2007

John Antaramian is mayor of Kenosha; he’s held the office for 13 years. He talks with Jane Hampden about regional cooperation… or lack of it… as part of WUWM’s Project Milwaukee series. WUWM’s community forum, Project Milwaukee: Creating a Vibrant Regional Economy, takes place Thursday at four o’clock on the 7th floor of the Plankinton Building in downtown Milwaukee. WUWM will record the discussion and air the forum on Lake Effect Monday, November 19th.

We asked Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for his perspective on local economic development. He told WUWM's Bob Bach that as mayor, one of his top priorities when it comes to helping the region prosper, is job creation.

As our series on economic development continues, we ask Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to share his views regarding the challenges the community faces and its successes. Walker tells WUWM's Bob Bach that economic development here is a two-sided tale.


Presented by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel & WUWM