Milwaukee Officials Hope Lead Controversy Brings Positive Change

Mayor Says He's Never Delayed Letting Public Know Of Problems

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Milwaukee’s Common Council president says he hopes a controversy about lead levels in children’s blood triggers a more comprehensive lead removal effort.

The comments by Alderman Ashanti Hamilton came Wednesday after council members and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett met for roughly four hours about last week’s resignation of City Health Commissioner Bevan Baker.

Barrett said he continues to investigate mismanagement concerns in the Milwaukee Health Department and whether some 1,500 families never received a city letter advising how to reduce lead levels in their children’s blood.

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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, left-center, speaks Wednesday to the Steering and Rules Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Hamilton said it also became clear from the meeting that the city needs to do more to halt lead pollution from local drinking water pipes.

“I think as a council now what we want to be able to do is to make sure that’s never left off the table,” Hamilton said.

The city has done well over the last two decades at reducing exposure from lead paint, Hamilton said, but he argues replacing more old water lines should be a higher priority, even if the cost is high.

Meanwhile, in an offshoot of the controversy, this week, some community activists called for the mayor to resign for what they say is his slow response to claims of mismanagement in the health department.

Barrett said he always tries to let the public know as soon as he can when he learns of a problem with the city’s efforts to reduce lead pollution and maintains he’s been very transparent.

“My history on this issue has been within days if not hours, if I believe I find out problems the public should know, I share it with the public. And that will be my position on this the entire time I’m mayor of this city, ” Barrett said.

He said a key focus now is to mail out the advice letters to families.

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