Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Virginia Tech researcher Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou served as advisor to Michigan's Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee and before that lent her expertise to the  Washington, D.C. lead in water crisis.

hemvala40 / Fotolia

There’s a heightened concern around the dangers lead poses to health in Milwaukee, especially among young children. Early this year, Milwaukee residents learned that the Milwaukee Health Department failed to properly notify thousands of families whose children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels.

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

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Mayor Tom Barrett gave Dr. Patricia McManus, head of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, the official green light Thursday, but the process was far from seamless.

Six weeks ago former commissioner Bevan Baker stepped down after evidence surfaced that the health department had botched protocols surrounding lead testing in children.

Mayor Barrett then announced his choice for interim commissioner - Paul Nannis.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

The topic of lead contamination continues to consume Milwaukee leaders. The Milwaukee Health Department is under scrutiny for mismanagement of its lead paint abatement program. And, at the same time, community pressure for a comprehensive plan seems to be mounting.

Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Public Works Committee, Alderman Tony Zielinski pushed for a companion strategy. “Key components of the legislation include inserts going out with the water bill quarterly as opposed to semiannually and that would provide educational material about lead," he said.

s / Milwaukee Public Radio

The Common Council voted nearly unanimously Tuesday to name Dr. Patricia McManus interim health commissioner.

Just one day earlier, Mayor Tom Barrett withdrew his choice for interim health department head, Paul Nannis.

The writing was on the wall. Recently the Public Safety and Health Committee grilled and rejected Nannis.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton decided to act – drawing from a seldom used measure called emergency power – to nominate Dr. Patricia MaManus for the job.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Update, 5:54 pm Thursday:

According to a press release issued by Ald. Bob Baumann, Mayor Barrett today lifted the policy that required health department staff get permission before communicating directly with elected officials.  The policy was discussed at Wednesday's Steering & Rules Committee where members learned for the first time of the policy's existence.

Original Story:

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

As the Milwaukee Common Council continues to sort through what's amiss with the health department, WUWM talks with parents concerned about lead contamination in their children.

Wahkunna Smith was confused when she received a letter from the City of Milwaukee Health Department that read: “Dear Parent or Guardian, One or more of your children had a blood lead test result within the last few years…"

LaToya Dennis

Monday evening Mayor Tom Barrett held a last minute press conference on a troubling new report from the Milwaukee Health Department. It cites inferior training and lack of coordination.

What Mayor Barrett focused on was gaps in follow up:

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Thursday morning, the Public Safety and Health Committee rejected naming Paul Nannis as Milwaukee's interim Commissioner of Health. The vote was 3 against, 1 abstention and 1 in favor.

Mayor Tom Barrett proposed Nannis for a 120-day interim position as Milwaukee carries out a national search for former health commissioner Bevan Baker's replacement.

The health department is due to provide a status report on its lead program to the Mayor and Common Council next Monday, January 29.

Original story: 

Marti Mikkelson

The city of Milwaukee is holding free clinics this week for children who may need additional testing for lead levels in their blood. The city sent out more than 5,000 letters Monday to people whose children tested positive for lead exposure in the past few years.

The correspondence went out as a precautionary measure, after it was discovered that the Health Department may have failed to send the follow-up letters years ago. That led to the resignation of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker earlier this month.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

As Steering & Rules Committee chair Ashanti Hamilton opened Wednesday's special meeting, he described the moment as pivotal to Milwaukee.  He called for thoughtfulness and urgency.

“The more we learn about the consequences of lead exposure, the clearer it is that the highest degree of care and caution must be given, especially to our most vulnerable communities,” Hamilton said.

Members of the public and media in the room expected to be ushered out. The word around town was the committee would move to a closed session.

Susan Bence

Update: During Tuesday's press event, Freshwater for Life Action Coalition, or FLAC, spokesperson Robert Miranda called for action.

Susan Bence

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.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Update, November 20: The Public Safety and Health Committee approved the resolution without debate at its Monday morning meeting.

Update: After this story aired, the City of Milwaukee Health Department contacted WUWM to share this information about the department's lead education efforts:


Update:  Since the story aired, the Milwaukee Department of Public Works provided the folowing information:

Milwaukee's final 2017 budget approved by the Common Council adjusted the year's eplacement targets to 300 day cares and 300 residential properties. DPW reports 355 replacements have been completed, 135 more are scheduled.  The department it will replace 600 lines by year's end.    

Original Post: Mayor Tom Barrett called this year's budget the starting point for removing lead pipes throughout the city.