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Common Council votes to launch investigation into Health Department over lead testing efforts

City of Milwaukee Health Department

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously on Wednesday morning, January 17th to launch an investigation into the city’s troubled Health Department — and the management of Milwaukee’s lead abatement efforts.

Wednesday’s action comes just days after Mayor Tom Barrett admitted the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) failed to adequately notify families of children who have been tested for lead — and exhibited elevated levels of lead in their blood. The mayor said there has been “mismanagement and significant shortfalls in how (the MHD) follows up with families.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

The mayor indicated every year approximately 25,000 children receive blood lead tests from a clinic or health provider. In Milwaukee, Barrett said around 3,000 of those tests come back as “elevated.” Barrett said each health provider has a duty to notify any families of results indicating elevated lead levels — and then conduct follow-up testing. The mayor believes this has indeed been happening.

Mayor Barrett said the Milwaukee Health Department receives the same reports — and is supposed to notify the family of the result  — and take appropriate action. That notification could be in the form of a letter or a home visit. But it is not clear whether this has indeed been happening.

Bevan Baker

The mayor said on Friday he was made aware of this lead testing problem the week before last. Alderman Michael Murphy said he got wind of the lead testing problem in late December — and sent a letter to Health Commissioner Bevan Baker. Baker has since resigned his post.