Let "There Is No Safe Level of Exposure to Lead" Be Your Mantra

On March 14, 2019, the Ecology Center joined our partners in the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MiLASH) to connect constituents to over fifty legislators in Lansing for the 7th annual Lead Education Day. The roughly eighty environmental advocates, public health professionals, lead abatement contractors, and families of lead-poisoned children echoed the mantra, “there is no safe level of exposure to lead,” in discussions with lawmakers about the real hazards of lead lurking in and around Michigan homes.

The Flint Water Crisis shined a light on the urgent need to address the legacy of lead in pipes delivering our drinking water, paint on the walls in our homes, and soil around our communities - both rural and urban. Over 70% of Michigan’s housing stock was built before 1978, the year lead was banned for use in paint. Each time a window or door is opened or closed, friction creates dust from the paint found on windows, doors, cupboards, and porches. If the resulting dust is contaminated with lead, occupants’ exposure is greatly increased, especially if the house was built before 1978.

In 2016, 5,521 Michigan children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. However, this number is likely higher because not many children are tested. Lead exposure is associated with hypertension, ADHD, kidney damage, reproductive issues, aggression, hyperactivity, bullying behavior, and even crime. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the impacts of lead exposure. Lead exposure is entirely preventable.

What legislators can do:

There’s much that can be done on the state level to prevent lead poisoning. On March 14th, lawmakers learned about many vital strategies, including:

  1. Universal blood lead level testing for all children at 1 and 2 years of age. Currently, only children on Medicaid, children who are screened and referred by a pediatrician, and children living in a targeted lead community are tested. Consequently, many children fall through the cracks in this system and only about 20% of all Michigan children are actually tested each year.

  2. Shift the burden of proof to landlords to submit documentation proving a unit has been made Lead Safe after a child has been poisoned in it and lead risks must be fixed and disclosed before renting the unit. Many kids in Michigan are lead poisoned in rental units. Due to the high turnover rate of these units creates a cycle of multiple families being poisoned each year

  3. Require a lead inspection risk assessment at the point of sale or transfer of property. While there is a lead disclosure form for home buyers to review prior to purchase, often times the lead status is “unknown” because no actual lead testing has been done. Since most kids are lead poisoned by their homes, it is crucial that we make sure homes are safe before they move in as a primary prevention tool to stop lead poisoning before it happens.

  4. Align with the Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission (CLEEC). The CLEEC was created by former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in 2018 to proactively work to eliminate lead exposure for Michigan children. Governor Whitmer has continued to support the work of the CLEEC. Fully funding and supporting the CLEEC will help advance their mission of preventing childhood lead exposure.

  5. Fully fund the budget requests for the lead abatement work done by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and for the Lead Commission.

Money sense:

Lead Education Day advocates also made the point that investing in preventing lead poisoning is not only good for our health - it’s also good for our collective wallet. The annual cost of lead exposure in Michigan children is approximately $270 million, $112 million of which is paid by taxpayers, according to the Ecology Center’s 2016 report. For this report, researchers added up conservative estimates of four societal costs directly impacted by lead poisoning: increased health care, increased adult and juvenile crime, increased special education, and decline in lifetime earnings.

Remediating the most at risk homes, however, would cost the state $600 million, yielding a profitable return on investment in less than three years. This is timely information for the legislators, as they will be working on the state budget over the next few months.

What you can do at home:

  • Don’t allow children or pets to play in bare soil;

  • Remove shoes before entering the house;

  • Wet-mop floors weekly;

  • Remove dust with a wet cloth, instead of dry-dusting;

  • Frequently wash children’s faces, hands, and teething toys;

  • Always use cold tap water for cooking;

  • Eat a diet rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin C;

  • Get children under 6 years of age tested for lead;

  • Contact the Ecology Center for other ways to get involved!