Milwaukee Health Dept. awarded $3.9 million to prevent lead poisoning

MILWAUKEE (WITI) – It's a big financial boost to help the city of Milwaukee fight a problem found in hundreds of old homes in Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett has announced the City of Milwaukee Health Department has been awarded $3.9 million over the next three years to support the MHD Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in Milwaukee. The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is part of more than $112 million in grants awarded to 39 local and state government agencies and research institutions to protect children and families from lead-based paint and other health and safety hazards in the home environment.

"We`re very excited about it.  It will allow us to make an additional about 700 homes lead safe over a 36 month period," Paul Biedrzycki with the Milwaukee Health Department said.

“The city of Milwaukee has made substantial progress, decreasing the prevalence of lead poisoning in children under 6 years of age from 34 percent of children to 3.3 percent. This funding will ensure our ability to continue work to provide lead-safe housing in Milwaukee," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Lead poisoning can affect a child for years.

"Lead poisoning has been linked to learning and behavioral deficits later in life, aggressive behavior that some have linked to juvenile delinquency and even criminal behavior. It`s recently been linked to poor performance in schools as evidenced by test scores and suspension rates," Biedrzycki said.

Lead poisoning can happen more subtly than you might expect. Children are more susceptible because of their metabolic rates and the amount of contact their hands have with their mouths.

"It`s the inadvertent ingestion of fine dust or contaminated particulate throughout the home and generally we find that dust and particulate on horizontal surfaces like window wells, window sills and floors under windows," Biedrzycki said.

We're told lead-based paint can likely be found in many Milwaukee homes.

"An old city like Milwaukee has quite a bit of housing stock that has the residual of lead-based paint within it. We estimate there are some 220,000 housing units built before 1978 in the city of Milwaukee alone," Biedrzycki said.

The MHD Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program has traditionally promoted community screening and testing of children for lead poisoning and conducted inspections of residential housing units for lead-based paint hazards. Since 1997, more than 16,000 housing units have been made lead safe through MHD efforts. The current HUD funding will allow the MHD to provide approximately 700 additional lead-safe housing units primarily for low-income families and through the rehabilitation of foreclosed properties.

"It`ll affect primarily our near North Side neighborhoods. Those are the highest hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis and not only that, they`re the source of our oldest housing stock," said Mario Higgins, Housing Outreach Director for Mayor Barrett.

“In cities with older housing stock such as Milwaukee, lead poisoning remains a significant environmental health threat  to children residing in or visiting properties with lead-based paint hazards. Lead poisoning in young children has been linked to learning and behavioral problems that can affect a person’s ability to succeed and become productive later in life. Reducing lead hazards in our community is essential to the life-long health of our youngest residents," Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker said.