'Stop covering up:' Activists accuse health officials of doctoring info about lead poisoning

MILWAUKEE -- Community activists are accusing the Milwaukee Health Department of doctoring information to the public about lead poisoning. It is the latest in what has been nearly a year of non-stop criticism aimed at the department's lead prevention efforts.

Leaders with two local coalitions that advocate for lead removal met with the health commissioner and Common Council president to express their concerns about lead data that they argue has been purposefully misrepresented.

Community activists say city leaders continue to downplay the seriousness of Milwaukee's lead issue -- nearly one year since it was revealed the childhood lead poisoning prevention program failed to provide necessary follow-up services for families whose children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. Then-Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned amid the scandal.

"We want our government to stop covering up and we want our government to stop being secretive about what's going on with this issue," said Robert Miranda with Freshwater for Life Action Coalition.

Leaders with Freshwater for Life Action Coalition and Get The Lead Out Coalition are particularly concerned about two maps from 2016.

"We have high poisoning in the east side again in 2016, and then they've slowly taken it off to show that it's less severe than it is," said Thomas Welcenbach of Get the Lead Out Coalition.

In February of this year, the city released one map -- depicting low to high density levels of children with lead poisoning across the city.

"The maps that the city was putting out there were pretty much doctored and manipulated," Miranda said.

Jeannette Kowalik

Newly appointed Health Commissioner Jeannette Kowalik said the change was made in the maps after realizing the first one violated HIPAA privacy rules.

"There's no doctoring of evidence," Kowalik said.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton said while that explanation seems reasonable, the discrepancies do warrant more discussion.

"I think there is a concern because it tells two very different stories," Hamilton said.

Ashanti Hamilton

Hamilton said he will be working with the two coalitions so they can formally present their data to the Steering and Rules Committee during its meeting in January.