The Ecology Center’s work in addressing lead contamination in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, and how you can support ending lead poisoning during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
Our harmful legacy: Michigan’s old housing stock, lead water service lines, crumbling infrastructure, and industrial heritage create elevated risk for lead poisoning. We’ve seen the alarming result of entire communities without a water supply; first, in Flint, now in Benton Harbor, where elevated levels of lead in the majority Black community have been found in the water system since 2018.
Michigan has a lead poisoning crisis. Many children are poisoning right in their homes from lead-contaminated dust, soil and paint chips too. In light of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week this October 24 to 30, we join our partners and government bodies around the country to call for an end.
For more than a decade, the Ecology Center has worked on lead poisoning prevention through advocacy, education, and policy development. Our hard work is beginning to pay off: in early October, Michigan representatives introduced a robust lead poisoning prevention package.
Do your part this Lead Poisoning Prevention Week to protect Michigan children from lead exposure! Please take 30 seconds to send a message to your lawmaker today urging them to support this bill package to protect our children’s health.
Lead Poisoning 101
There are no safe levels of lead. In 2019, more than 3,000 kids ages six and under in Michigan were found to have elevated lead in their blood, while thousands more went untested. Around the country, lead poisoning affects an estimated 3.5 million children per year, according to the CDC.
Lead can be present inside and outside the home. If absorbed into the body, lead poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system, resulting in learning and behavior problems, slow growth and development, and hearing and speech problems. Therefore, it is imperative to prevent children from coming into contact with this hazardous substance.
Ecology Center’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Work
Following the Flint water crisis in 2016, the Ecology Center and our allies urged for statewide action addressing lead contamination, resulting in the formation of the Childhood Lead Exposure Commission. The commission issued a set of recommendations to end lead poisoning in the state. The commission also provided funding to local health departments to investigate lead risks and provided funding for 24 different innovative pilot projects across the state to stop lead poisoning before it starts.
In 2018, the Ecology Center helped form the Great Lakes Lead Elimination Network (GLLEN). With non-profit partners from Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, we are working to eliminate lead hazards in homes, schools, workplaces, and other areas throughout the Great Lakes region. We also engage with decision-makers regarding local and state-level policy and share resources to educate the public about avoiding lead.
This year, with the support of the network, the Ecology Center launched the Lead Impacted Family Training, a seven-month program for families affected by lead poisoning. Through the program, over 30 families connected with other lead-affected families across Michigan and people working to end lead exposure to develop a policy platform and speak with lawmakers about the need to prevent lead exposure.
Michigan Legislation Addressing Lead Poisoning
On October 14, a group of representatives in the Michigan House introduced a package of bills to prevent lead poisoning in Michigan. The package, which has bipartisan support, will improve prevention, identification, and treatment of lead exposure statewide. The bills also confront related environmental justice issues that disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color.
Michigan’s Filter First bill was also re-introduced in February of this year, a bipartisan bill that will provide funding for every school and childcare center in the state to install filtered drinking water fountains and filters for taps. The package costs $166 million over 10 years, which is $331 million less than the cost to screen these facilities for lead. The bill is up for a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources committee on October 25th.
Preventing Lead Poisoning at Home
In addition to supporting proposed legislation, there are many ways you can prevent lead poisoning at home.
Get Your Home Tested
If your home was built before 1978, you can get it tested for lead. Your options include:
A lead-based paint inspection that tells you if your home has lead-based paint and where it is located;
Lead risk assessment that tells you if your home currently has any lead hazards from lead in paint, dust, or soil, and what actions to take to address those hazards; or
A combination inspection and risk assessment, which will tell you if your home has any lead-based paint or lead hazards and where both are located.
If you rent, ask your landlord to have your home or apartment tested.
To find out if you have lead in your drinking water, have your water tested.
Contact your local health department or water company to find out about testing your water, or visit epa.gov/safewater for EPA’s lead in drinking water information.
Get Your Child Tested
It is crucial to act early to get your child tested for lead. Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase from 6 to 12 months of age and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age. A simple blood test can detect lead. Consult your healthcare provider for advice on blood lead testing.
Blood lead tests are required for children at ages 12 and 24 months who receive Medicaid.
Blood lead tests are recommended for children at ages 12 and 24 months living in high risk areas or who belong to high risk populations; children or other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead; and children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.
Pregnant women who think they may have been exposed to lead should talk to their healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test.
Ask your healthcare provider to explain the blood lead test results.
Image: NBC News