Activists demand accountability in Milwaukee's Health Department for mismanaged lead poisoning cases

NOW: Activists demand accountability in Milwaukee’s Health Department for mismanaged lead poisoning cases

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Activists and grassroots coalitions are demanding former and current officials in a Milwaukee lead poisoning program be held accountable after a series of mismanaged cases.

Dozens traveled from Milwaukee to Madison to protest at the State Capitol expressing their frustrations with how long a criminal investigation into Milwaukee Health Department is taking after reports of mismanaged incidents of lead poisoned children.

"This is about children, families, generations and the future of our city and the time has come to stop playing the political shenanigans," said Robert Miranda, member of the Get the Lead Out Coalition.

The city's lead abatement program has faced years of scrutiny which first began in 2018. It was then revealed that officials failed to provide services to families with lead poisoned kids. This ignited a criminal investigation into the matter.

The problems led to the resignation of then health commissioner Bevan Baker. His departure was followed by several leadership changes including two interim health commissioners and two permanent commissioners. Current Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson took over in February of 2021.

This week, another incident came to light after the health department revealed a mismanaged lead poisoning case in May of 2021. Officials say an inspector was sent to the home of a lead poisoned child to find and abate the sources of lead. The inspector missed paint on the trim of a garage and failed to test soil, which is required as part of the abatement process.

"This continues to be swept under the rug, and our children are continuously being poisoned and our communities is continuously being poisoned," said King Rick, leader of the Black Panthers.

Members from the Black Panthers, Party of Socialism and Liberation, Los Brown Berets, and Democratic Socialist of America joined together to deliver a letter to Attorney General Josh Kaul office asking for an update on the years-long criminal investigation.

The criminal probe could soon be coming to an end. A DOJ spokeswoman said "the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and Wisconsin Department of Justice are continuing to work together to review this matter. An update will be available in the next several weeks."

Health officials say an audit of the lead poisoning program will now immediately begin, which was previously scheduled for the fall.

Members on Milwaukee's Common Council are also considering designating millions from the federal stimulus package to abate lead hazards in homes.

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