Years before the Flint water crisis, lead poisoning was already a public health and economic disaster for the state of Michigan. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Michigan the fifth-worst state in the nation for its rate of childhood lead poisoning. Based on data from 2014, the lead poisoning of Michigan children has cost the state at least $270 million per year, $112 million of which is paid by taxpayers. Allowing our children to be poisoned by their own homes has led to increased costs in healthcare, higher rates of adult crime and juvenile delinquency, an increased need for special education, and a decline in lifetime savings. However, according to a recent update of the Ecology Center’s report titled Costs of Lead Exposure and Remediation: Update, a $600 million investment in lead remediation could reduce the lead poisoning of children by 70% while paying for itself in 3 years and returning taxpayer investment in 7-8 years.
“Now is the time to elevate lead poisoning of Michigan’s children to the critical public health problem that it is,”
Based on this report, the Ecology Center and a coalition of health and environmental groups are demanding the state government end lead poisoning in Michigan’s children. In the wake of the Flint water crisis, the world has been reawakened to the ongoing crisis of lead exposure. While we’ve known about the dangers of poisonous lead for years, we have failed as a society to mount a response that is scaled to the size of the problem. Many Michigan homes were built before 1978 and are likely to still contain lead paint and dust. Children living in these homes have been in danger as long as lead has been added to paint, which started in the 4th century and wasn’t prohibited in the U.S. until 1978.
“Now is the time to elevate lead poisoning of Michigan’s children to the critical public health problem that it is,” Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director of the Ecology Center, said. “There is a moral and economic imperative to address the poisoning of so many vulnerable children in our state. Michigan lawmakers should not rest when there are cost-effective solutions for an entirely preventable problem.”
Lead poisoning is a massive public health issue, but it is not insurmountable and there are cost-effective steps that we can take right now. A $600 million investment by the state can and should be used to remediate lead in Michigan’s 100,000 most at risk homes, and would likely reduce lead in children by 70%. This would free up money that Michiganders needlessly spend on the aftermath of an inexcusable public health crisis. The investment would return $190 million annually, $78 million of which would be saved by Michigan taxpayers.
“Lead exposure results in significant costs borne by Michiganders, including incarceration, special education, and loss of earnings,” Tracy Swinburn, economist and author of the report, said. “Investments in remediation have both public health and economic benefits.”
It’s important to note that the state is taking steps to reduce lead poisoning in our children. The Snyder Administration has created a Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board, which includes experts on child lead poisoning mitigation as well as representatives from hospitals, local governments, and health agencies. What we need to ensure is that this board doesn’t take half measures and that its goal is nothing short of the complete elimination of Michigan’s lead epidemic.