Milwaukee's Childhood Lead Epidemic

Milwaukee, Wisconsin has struggled with childhood lead poisoning in its North Side neighborhoods for decades. Although the numbers have declined over time, this issue continues to affect a disproportionate number of African American and Latino children each year. Childhood lead poisoning can cause permanent neurological damage including behavioral issues and learning disabilities. Despite the significant possibility of exposure, many parents in the North Side area are unaware of the dangers and possible sources of lead. In 2018, COLE Parents Lead, the parent education and advocacy arm of the Coalition on Lead Emergency, was formed to bring awareness to this issue within their community and to put pressure on lawmakers to take serious steps towards removing lead from their environment.

This digital exhibit is part of a photovoice project coordinated by COLE Parents Lead and Cara Jacob, a graduate researcher from Michigan State University, in the Spring of 2022. It asked affected community members to take photos that answered one question:

"How does lead affect your daily life?"

Participants then worked with the researcher to develop narratives that give insight into what the images represent. As a group, the participants then sorted the photos into themes that capture what they believe to be the most important aspects of living with lead.

The themes identified were "Don't Trust," "Having to Fight," "Teaching the Next Generation," and "Others Need to Learn." They reflect both the daily challenges and dangers of lead exposure and the importance COLE Parents Lead places on lead education. Each theme is now represented in a photo exhibit.

Click on the themes below to see the exhibits!