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Art Into Action | Drawing Awareness to Childhood Lead Poisoning in Wisconsin

May 19, 2022

7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

map with text that says: Lead poisoning in Wisconsin. From 1996–2016, more than 200,000 children have been diagnosed as lead-poisoned. Each red dot represents an address associated with a lead-poisoned child.
Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Blood Lead Testing Data


Tune into a live, virtual panel with artist Mel Chin, a longtime activist for lead poisoning prevention, along with Wisconsin-based experts in lead poisoning, pediatrics, environmental health, and community advocacy. This free event is available on Facebook Live @MMoCAMadison. You don’t need a Facebook account to join this event.

In what has been referred to as a “silent epidemic,” approximately 500,000 children under age 6 have elevated blood lead levels in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Wisconsin alone, more than 200,000 children were diagnosed as lead poisoned between 1996 and 2016, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Sources of toxic levels of lead include drinking water delivered through lead pipes, lead paint, and lead dust in older homes. The problem disproportionately affects lower income communities and neighborhoods, where residents often live in older homes and rental properties that haven’t been well maintained, which may contain lead-based paint–banned from use in 1978. Lead poisoning can cause long-lasting and irreversible effects on learning, development, and behavior in small children.

The Art Into Action panel aims to educate the community about the sources of the problem, how to prevent childhood lead poisoning, and where to find resources and assistance.

Meet the Panelists

headshot of Mel Chin
Photo courtesy of Mel Chin.

Mel Chin

Mel Chin, a North Carolina-based conceptual visual artist whose passion for social and environmental causes is highlighted in his body of work. Chin has spent decades raising awareness about lead poisoning, which he learned about during a visit to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, Chin initiated his nationwide art activation, the Fundred Project (on view at MMoCA through July 31, 2022), aimed at prompting political action and increased government funding to help resolve the problem.

Shy McElroy, a community organizer for the Coalition on Lead Emergency, smiling for the camera
Photo courtesy of Shy McElroy.

Shy McElroy

Shy McElroy is a community organizer for the Coalition on Lead Emergency (COLE) in Milwaukee and the parent of a lead-affected child.

Dr. Beth Neary smiling, looking off into the distance
Photo courtesy of Dr. Beth Neary.

Dr. Beth Neary

Dr. Beth Neary is the co-president of Wisconsin Environmental Health Network and a Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. She is the Wisconsin representative for the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), Region 5.

headshot of Majorie Coons smiling and wearing a floral top and a knit cardigan
Photo courtesy of Marjorie Coons.

Marjorie Coons

Marjorie Coons is the Program Director for the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

headshot of Caroline Griffith
Photo courtesy of Caroline Griffith.

Caroline Griffith

Moderator Caroline Griffith is a Ph.D. Candidate in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Public Humanities Fellow at Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Learning Resources

Map by Caroline Griffith. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health. To protect confidentiality, data are suppressed for census tracts with fewer than five children tested. Courtesy of the Midwest Environmental Advocates.

To learn more about lead exposure in Wisconsin, read Wisconsin misses chances to cut risk of lead exposure in drinking water.

To learn more about lead exposure in Wisconsin, take a look at “Living with Lead: Milwaukee’s Lead Crisis.” In 2021, the percentage of children tested with elevated blood lead levels in Milwaukee was nearly double the state average. This story map includes public health data and interviews with city residents to better understand the crisis.


Wisconsin Humanities logo
Wisconsin Environmental Health Network logo
Midwest Environmental Advocates logo

The Art Into Action panel is co-sponsored by Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network. Additional funding is provided by the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

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