By City of Milwaukee Health Department
Lead poisoning is a public health crisis. Milwaukee has been tackling this with much success. Although we’ve made great progress – lead poisoning rates in Milwaukee have gone down by nearly 70% since 2003 – we have more work to do.
The news that our Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program failed families is a setback for our entire community.
There are many questions: What happened? What is the Health Department doing about it? What should parents do to protect their children?
We are working tirelessly to answer these questions – and they will be shared as we continue to investigate what happened.
Here’s what we know: Lead in the body is serious. It is especially serious for young children. It can permanently damage a child’s brain. No level of lead in the body is safe for children.
But lead is found both inside and outside of our homes. Old lead-based paint, contaminated soil, and water that sits in lead pipes or plumbing are the most common sources of lead exposure for children.
The only way to prevent a child from becoming lead poisoned is to prevent their exposure to sources of lead. And the only way to know if a child has been exposed to lead is to get a blood lead test.
Every child in Milwaukee should be tested at least three times before the age of 3, and doctors and clinics should also test children up to age 6 if they are at risk. If you are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or have children under age 6, talk to your doctor about lead testing.
Most lead testing is done by doctors and clinics, not by the City of Milwaukee Health Department. Those doctors and clinics are responsible for telling parents the results of their child’s blood lead test.
However, the Department also has a responsibility. Doctors and clinics also tell us every blood lead test result, and our responsibility is to follow-up with families.
At the lowest levels of lead testing, we send information to families reminding them to get their child additional testing and providing resources on how to identify and protect children from lead in a home.
At higher levels of testing, we reach out to families to make home visits so that we can investigate and help control lead hazards.
This is where we found the problem. It was discovered that our records are not clear if we met those responsibilities. Even one failure or one uncertainty is too many. So we are responding.
We have mailed information to families where our records are unclear if their children returned to their doctor for additional testing. We are also calling families who may be eligible for additional services.
We have added free blood lead testing for children to our clinics, and we have opened a Lead Information Hotline to answer questions about lead exposure and testing.
We are also fixing our program. We have sent 12 pages of recommendations to the Mayor and Common Council that will help us strengthen our program, partnerships, and the support we can provide to families. We are working with federal and local officials to carry out those recommendations.
This will take time. Our immediate focus is on the children who have been exposed to lead. We must make sure they get all the services they deserve.
We are also working to help families prevent lead poisoning by sharing information and resources with families citywide – and by restructuring our program to better respond, partner, and support families who live in homes that may pose a risk to children.
We will continue to improve our program. We will continue to work with doctors and clinics to reach more children for blood lead tests. We will continue to urge parents to get their child tested for lead exposure.
And we will continue to share information with you – parents and caregivers in our city – so that we can all work together to prevent lead poisoning and assure that when a child is exposed, it is detected early.
Lead poisoning prevention is a community issue. It will take all of us working together to build a lead-safe Milwaukee.
For more information on lead poisoning prevention visit
or call the Lead
Information Hotline at