By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
It’s no secret that Milwaukee has a lead problem. Residents throughout the city and county have experienced problems with lead, either through water, paint, soil or all of the above. In the past, Milwaukee officials have struggled with how to handle lead, but a recent announcement could bring a change.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, Mayor Tom Barrett announced that the City of Milwaukee was awarded a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Barrett found out about the grant from a call from Dr. Ben Carson. Milwaukee received the grant in parts due to its efforts to decrease the amount of lead found in homes and the number of children who test positively for lead.
“This 5.6 million dollars is significant,” Barrett said.
By the government awarding Milwaukee this grant, it shows that it has confidence in Milwaukee’s work towards eliminating lead in homes.
According to Barrett, there are several goals which Milwaukee hopes to achieve through the grant. Among them is to have 400 homes assessed for lead. Over 300 homes will undergo lead abatement and of those 114 homes will receive repairs. Furthermore, 40 people will be hired and trained in lead abatement.
An additional priority is to help families with children who have been diagnosed with lead poisoning.
During the press conference, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who has been an instrumental part in eliminating lead in Milwaukee, thanked Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, the commissioner of health in Milwaukee, for turning around the health commission and for helping Milwaukee’s relationship with HUD.
Milwaukee has the largest lead threat in the state, Moore said. This grant will not only help eliminate lead, but it will also help train people on how to eliminate lead.
Kowalik said that the lead problem is being handled, but it still exists.
“While this is a huge accomplishment, there’s still a lot to be done when it comes to the lead program,” said Kowalik.
She acknowledged that a lot of people from Moore, to additional grant writers, were part of the reason Milwaukee was awarded this grant.
“The health department is considering the lead problem a winnable battle,” Kowalik said, but it needs resources to win.
Money is important, but also having people who are trained in handling the issues is important too. That means having volunteers, a full staff on the health commission but especially contractors who can serve the city.
Kowalik also announced that there is a new deputy commissioner for environmental health who will be taking charge on the lead program. That announcement is to come next week.