HUD-funded lead abatement projects on hold in Milwaukee after review revealed issues

MILWAUKEE -- Federal officials want changes to Milwaukee's efforts to tackle the city's lead problem. A letter from the health operations administrator for the City of Milwaukee to the Milwaukee Common Council indicates the Milwaukee Health Department received a high-risk designation -- and has been issued a stop work order on any HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development)-funded lead abatement projects -- work funded by the federal "Lead Hazard Reduction Grant."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

"I don't see this as a permanent stop order. This is an intermediate order that allows us to re-calibrate the program," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The announcement comes after HUD officials conducted an on-site visit on Feb. 7 and 8 to review all Milwaukee Health Department HUD-funded project files.  The review, according to the email, found many of the same issues identified in a recently-released report -- including concerns over overall grant performance, program management and documentation.

"They had some concerns on the scope of the work we were doing," Barrett said.

HUD has therefore issued a stop work order to any health department work funded by the federal Lead Hazard Reduction Grant. Per the letter, HUD will provide the MHD additional information within the next few days regarding the special conditions placed on the grant and how to remove the stop work order.

Mayor Barrett and other health department officials asked HUD for input after an internal investigation flagged the same problems with the city's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

"I spoke with the HUD representatives. This is something that we discussed in-depth. I am very comfortable with the decision they have made," Barrett said.

In the letter to the Common Council, the health department says this order may seem drastic, but changes to the lead abatement program are already underway.

"I want to make this clear because it is our belief that the major issue remains to lead-based paint," Barrett said.

Barrett said this is separate from the issues of replacing lead laterals.

"There is no lead in the water mains in the city of Milwaukee. There is lead in some laterals that go off the water mains and that becomes an issue when those laterals are disturbed," Barrett said.

The following statement was issued by the City of Milwaukee Health Department on this matter:

"As part of the steps to address the issues found in the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, Mayor Barrett and the City of Milwaukee Health Department invited HUD to review the findings of the Health Department’s own internal investigation.

HUD’s analysis affirmed the findings related to our HUD-funded activities, and we have agreed that a temporary pause will provide us with welcome support in improving the program.

As we take action on the recommendations issued in our own report, we will work closely with HUD to implement processes that will allow us to better respond to and help families prevent lead poisoning in our community."