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‘Very disturbed:’ Congresswoman Moore calls for investigation into Milwaukee’s lead prevention program

MILWAUKEE -- Congresswoman Gwen Moore is calling on the nation's top health agency to launch an investigation into Milwaukee's lead prevention program. This, after it was revealed follow-up by the Milwaukee Health Department for families with children who have tested positive for elevated levels of lead may not have been done -- something that led to the resignation of former Health Commissioner Bevan Baker.

In a letter to the CDC and US Department of Housing and Urban Development — seeking information about how the “Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program” is being managed, Congresswoman Moore said she wants the CDC to look into how federal dollars given to the Milwaukee Health Department were used or not used to protect residents from lead exposure.

Each year, the Milwaukee Health Department competes with other cities across the country to receive grant money from the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. That funding then goes toward testing tens of thousands of children for lead exposure.

Earlier this month, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced that Milwaukee Health Department officials may have not followed up with parents whose children had elevated lead levels in their blood between 2015 and 2017.

Gwen Moore

"The mayor's office and I both were very, very disturbed and distressed to think that we have left federal dollars on the table that we have not used toward ameliorating these problems or helping these children," said Moore.

Now, Congresswoman Moore is asking the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, to look at what went wrong.

"We're trying to figure out why and how during this period of time that program goals and purposes were not followed through with," said Moore.

In a statement to FOX6, officials with the Department of Public Works said the department: "wishes to assure residents that Milwaukee's water supply is in full compliance with federal testing standards by the Environmental Protection Agency."

Approximately 3,000 Milwaukee children test positive for lead poisoning annually. Exposure often comes from lead water service lines.

"The negative effects, particularly in children under five, can result in sort of attention deficit issues, other cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders," Moore said.

Moore says there are ways to avoid future exposure, such as running the faucet for several minutes or using a filter.

"But of course, all of this has to be in coordination with those families. You have to be communicating with those people," said Moore.

Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned amid the scandal and Milwaukee Common Council members have since ordered an investigation into the matter. The city recently sent letters to more than 6,400 homes.

Additionally, the city has opened three clinics for lead testing, and established a hotline for those with questions.

Below is the text of the letters, as issued by Congresswoman Moore’s office:

January 23, 2018

Mr. Mitchell Wolfe
Acting Director
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
395 E St SW Ste 9100
Washington, DC 20472-3298

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

I am writing this letter to seek information in regard to the federally funded Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, administered by the City of Milwaukee.

As you know, the 2014 crisis in Flint, Michigan brought national attention to the issue of lead in drinking water, as well as the devastating health consequences on young children. A couple years later, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released their analysis of the rate of lead poisoning among children in Wisconsin. This analysis showed that the rate of lead poisoning among children in Wisconsin is nearly equal to Flint, Michigan. In Wisconsin, 4.6% of children under the age of 6 who were tested had lead poisoning; Flint, Michigan’s rate was 4.9%. The analysis further found that a disproportionate number of African-American children had lead poisoning.

I mention the facts above in order to illustrate the seriousness of lead poisoning in the State of Wisconsin and, in particular, within the 4th Congressional District and the City of Milwaukee, which has the largest concentration of lead service lines in the state. The City of Milwaukee Health Department tests children for lead exposure through the earlier mentioned Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Recently, it was reported that the City of Milwaukee Health Department failed to provide notification to thousands of families whose children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels (see attached article). 

As a result of the lack of notification, the City of Milwaukee instituted a number of personnel changes, citing mismanagement in the City of Milwaukee Health Department. I am concerned about my constituents, especially the children who may not have received appropriate care. I urge you to investigate the administration of this program and ensure it is in compliance with the guidelines for lead poisoning as established by the federal Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

The City of Milwaukee’s CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program has been considered a model program for the nation in the past. The program is vital to the well-being of Milwaukee’s children and must continue to operate at a high standard to mitigate exposure to lead. I appreciate your timely consideration of this request. Please feel free to contact my office if you have questions regarding this letter.

Sincerely,
Gwen Moore
Member of Congress