Monday, September 24, 2018

Lead Poisoning on U.S. Army Bases

A special report published by Reuters this August shows that lead poisoning in children in the U.S. is not an isolated issue. In fact, hundreds of children residing on Army bases throughout the country, from Texas to Georgia to New York are reported to have high lead blood levels. Beginning in April of last year, Reuters began investigating the prevalence of lead in Army base homes, and the results were shocking. Of the five homes initially tested in Fort Benning, Georgia all were found to have toxic levels of lead; one house had 58 times the federal threshold! Lead poisoning is avoidable in homes if proper measures are taken, however the Army failed to do so despite concerns from families about the chipping lead paint in their homes, and the health impact it may have on their children.
This was the case for Colonel J. Cale Brown and his family. Stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, his son John Cale Jr. began experiencing odd symptoms only a few months after the family moved into one of the homes on the base in 2011. John Cale Jr. suffered from a loss of appetite, limited speech and general disorientation. It was months later that doctors discovered the root of the problem: high blood lead levels. Their son had lead poisoning. To prevent this from happening to other children at Fort Benning, Colonel Brown pleaded with Army officials to perform regular home inspections and lead testing in children, and to also confront the building contractors from Villages of Benning who were in charge of managing the houses. Base leaders agreed to follow through on his requests but little was done. A year later seven more children from the base were found to have high blood lead levels.
Moving forward, Army officials need to take responsibility for their actions, and follow through on their word by performing abatement on hazardous houses and regular lead testing on children residing on bases. Members of the U.S. Army and their families deserve safe and healthy living conditions, just like everyone else. You can read more about the story here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-military-housing-specialreport/special-report-children-poisoned-by-lead-on-us-army-bases-as-hazards-ignored-idUSKBN1L11IP

Friday, April 27, 2018

Record Breaking 8th Annual Lead-Education Day!

Our annual lead education day at the Michigan State Capitol was a record-breaking success! Over 100 participants traveled from all over the state to gather and rally support from our legislators to end lead poisoning in Michigan. This event is annually coordinated by MIALSH and our allies at Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and we are proud to share that this year's efforts far exceeded our expectations. 
The day unfolded as 18 teams of 3-5 advocates took the State Capitol by storm as we met with nearly 90 state legislative offices in attempts to inform and promote more effective lead laws in Michigan. To supplement our efforts beyond the 90 sit-down conversations with lawmakers and their staff members, we diligently delivered to all 38 State Senate and 110 State House offices a comprehensive packet of thoughtful material summarizing the latest science on lead poisoning and prevention strategies. 
Lead Education Day participants represented many disciplines and walks of life- justice and environmental health advocates, state and local public officials, lead testing and abatement professionals, parents and even children. We purposely crafted each team to include a parent who could share a personal story of their experience and devastation with lead poisoning in their homes & communities. 
Special thanks are needed to be given to one of our top MIALASH partners-Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan- and the Grand Rapids parents who networked through many channels to assemble a busload of participants for the event. Their efforts and attendance gave Lead Education Day 2018 a powerful West Michigan voice that certainly made a difference. 
It must be noted that the most impressive and robust element of this event was the teamwork that fueled it. Reynolds displayed admirable organizational force along with several MIALSH members and MEC staff whos major contributions to logistics and preparation made Lead Education Day 2018 a remarkable success. As an intern for MEC and first-time Lead Ed Day participant, I can say that it was exhilarating to see such a diverse group of people band together to fight for a common cause and I felt empowered as I stood in the offices of my state representatives with a head full of knowledge and a heart full of hope. Days prior to the event I had become exhausted with the horrific stories of lead-poisoning and this feeling fueled my desire to make a difference. 
Lead Education Day is an impactful and meaningful form of community engagement and we believe its influence will ripple through the Capitol and bring forth long-lasting, positive change for Michigan. Cheers to teamwork!





Tuesday, February 20, 2018

EPA Ordered to Update Lead Paint Rules

        In 2009, a coalition of 12 non-profit environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Center for Healthy Housing, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to update the Nation’s lead paint laws.The groups requested that the amount of lead in dust be changed from 40 to 10 µg/ft2 for floors and from 250 to 100 µg/ft2 for interior window sills. The groups also requested that a change in the definition of lead-based paint occur. In 2009, the maximum level of lead allowed in paint was 5,000 ppm. The proposed rule change would bring that number down to 600 ppm, causing an 88% decrease of lead in paint.The EPA granted the request, and said that it would work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to update the laws.
        Fast forward 8 years and the EPA still hadn’t done anything. HUD was petitioned by another collation to update it’s rules, and went ahead in the process. Strangely though, the EPA did not. August of 2016, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the EPA, but the decision wasn’t handed down until December of 2017. In its decision, the 9th Circuit Court found the EPA had unreasonably delayed updating the lead paint rules. The court issued a writ of mandamus, which forces the EPA update it’s rule on the amount of lead in dust and definition of lead-based paint in 90 days. Those changes are to be implemented within 1 year of creation.
        This a big step in the fight against childhood lead poisoning. By changing these rules, children all of the country will ultimately be exposed to less lead. The stricter standards will lower the threshold needed for abatement in many areas. These laws have not been updated since 2001, and need to be, if we are to properly protect children. The EPA knows this, as shown by accepting the petition and guidance from it’s Science Advisory Board, but failed to act. If it had not been for the percistance of non-profit coalition, these rules would have been untouched.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Detroit Ghost Factories


Lead is in dirt, just like it is in air and water. Lead naturally occurs in soil, but can also be left over from prior land use. Demolished buildings, incinerators, and gas stations can all leave behind high levels of lead in soil. Often forgotten, and possibly worse are “Ghost Factories”. “Ghost Factories” is a term USA Today gave to demolished or abandoned lead smelting factories that were active up until the 1960s.These factories were used to  separate lead from other metals to be sold as raw materials for manufacturing.In 2003, the newspaper took a look at “Ghost Factories” all across the country. Using old records, such as insurance and fire maps, and community knowledge, they found over 400 sites that the EPA and state environmental agencies had no idea about. These factories are not active now, but their effect can still be found.
In Detroit alone, there are 16 total sites. Many of the factories are long gone, as the Detroit Free Press found in 2003, and have been redeveloped or sit as empty lots. Some are now owned by companies like Pepsi or American Axle and Manufacturing. Others are owned by the City of Detroit. Even Ford Field even sits on top of a former factory. Most importantly, these factories have polluted the soil of surrounding residential areas, which show dangerously high levels of lead. This poses threats for gardening, and for children playing outside.
“Ghost Factories” raises problems. First, much of the cost of cleaning up these sites falls on the back of the taxpayers. Many of the companies that operated these factories simply don’t exist anymore, and can’t be held accountable. Second, the EPA and DEQ don’t have the money to clean up these sites. The MDEQ has only started clean up on one of these sites in the 14 years it has known about them. Last, “Ghost Factories” raise questions about the monitoring quality and capacity of agencies. It was the work of newspapers and the community that brought these sites to the attention of the public, not agencies.

You can learn more about Ghost Factories here:https://www.usatoday.com/section/ghost-factories/

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lead in Cosmetics

We all know that lead is a problem and in many objects we interact with in our daily lives. Cosmetics provide a new set of products to watch out for. In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft guidance for the cosmetic industry, which was handed down after testing found lead to be present in various external cosmetic products. After 8 years of testing and research, lead was identified in lipsticks, lip glosses, lip liners, eye shadows, blushes, shampoos, and lotions. As a result, the FDA has decided to recommend the limit of lead on cosmetics be set at 10 parts per million (ppm). The products tested were well below that limit according to the FDA. These recommendations are not legally binding, and are just suggestions for the industry.
While none of these products were over the new limit recommended at 10 ppm, there are still health consequences of using these products. Lead can still be absorbed through the skin or accidentally ingested when using these products. This may not be a large problem for adults, who are less susceptible to the effects of lead, but these products can still harm children. Children are more susceptible to lead, so extra care should be taken with cosmetic products.
What can parents do since the FDA has only created guidances? There are a few steps that you can take to protect your household. Ensuring that cosmetics are out of reach of babies and toddlers who are likely to try to eat them is a good start. Lead free cosmetic items are also available, which helps to keep dress-up play or Halloween safe for kids. Also knowing what is in common household products can help keep you and your children healthy. Lead is never included on labels for any products, but are present in these products. Doing a little research of different brands before buying can go a long way in protecting your family. Brands such as L’Oreal, Maybelline, and Cover Girl have tested the highest for lead levels. Knowing what brands test high or don’t even allow lead in cosmetics can help you protect your household.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Does Your Baby's Food Contain Lead?


Many of you may start your day by going to the grocery store.  If you have an infant you’re shopping for you may head to the baby food section where you place fruit juice, Gerber Lil’ Entrees and applesauce pouches in the cart for your youngsters. You check the back label for the nutrition facts to ensure none of what you’re buying is too high in sugar or sodium. However, there is one ingredient not found on the label. Here’s a hint: its symbol on the periodic table is Pb and it used to be found in wooden pencils you used as a kid.  You guessed it, lead.

As you probably know, babies and young children are especially at risk for experiencing the effects from exposure. There is no safe level of lead exposure and kids, partly due to their teething behaviors and their having a much higher absorption rate for lead than adults. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found out of 57 types of food designated by the FDA as baby food in the study, lead was in one or more of the 52 samples. Some of the most contaminated foods included the following: Fruit juice, root vegetables, and teething biscuits. 

It should be noted that lead exposure cannot be 100% eliminated because of lead is naturally occurring and would be impossible to pinpoint its exact source for every bit of produced food, and none of the aforementioned samples contained levels above FDA recommendations. However, here is a list of some of the important places to keep a look out for:

Soil: You see lots of it on a daily basis. From your backyard to your home garden, soil is everywhere. If you choose to grow your own foods, it is important to keep in mind that highly industrial areas are at a higher risk due to auto emissions. Vegetables do not readily absorb lead, which means the risk of lead poisoning from this source is low and children are more likely to become poisoned by consuming the soil directly. However, root vegetables—carrots and lettuce—as noted above are known to contain higher lead concentrations if the soil exceeds 300 ppm. Concerned your soil might be contaminated? Check here.

Food Containers: According to Consumer Reports, pesticides and chemicals are concentrated in processed baby foods. Contact the companies behind your favorite brands to learn about their processing and how much lead they allow in their products (click here and here). Additionally, you should be careful of the types of containers you store your food in. Older china dishes and some imported food containers may contain traces of lead, though the risk of exposure is very low. Learn about FDA regulations for imported foods here as well as here.

Water: As you are aware, lead from pipes can leak into your water source. If you are giving your child formula, keep in mind contaminated tap water can put your child at risk because of the high amounts of water they are consuming. Private wells older than 20 years old can also be a source of lead.  Lead service lines to your home and your own faucets and fixture are the primary sources of lead that may be in your water.  The EPA provides tips to ensure the water that makes it into your home is safe for you and your little one(s) to consume. If you are breastfeeding, follow these recommendations for water consumption to reduce the risk of lead transfer to your child(ren).

Keeping your child(ren) safe is the number one priority for parents and caregivers. If you are concerned about lead levels in your home or the food you are buying, don’t hesitate to reach out to companies and/or your local health department for more information.                                                                                            

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Many Children Left Untested For Lead

Since the Flint water crisis made its way into national headlines, lead screening and testing has become of high concern, especially testing among young children who, as you know, are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. You’ve heard about the symptoms—hyperactivity, decreased IQ, insomnia, fatigue—the list goes on.

Yet, despite this increased concern, a study conducted by the Public Health Institute of California Assessing Child Lead Poisoning Case Ascertainment in the United States between 1999 and 2010 found that in some places nearly 80% of poisoned children were unidentified. Nationally, 607,000/944,000 (64%) cases were reported to the CDC. This means the other 36% of children went undetected, with many of the reported coming from areas in the Midwest and Northeast. Not good with percentages? Here is a graphic to help. Also, according to another study conducted by Reuters, cities in some states like Wisconsin and Missouri had a poisoning rate higher than that of Flint’s.

What Accounts For The Number of Children Going Untested?
To help wrap our heads around this issue, here is a list, though not an extensive one, to help answer this questions (for more information, you can take a look here and here).

  • Low-income children covered by Medicaid are required to be tested, but research has shown compliance with such a requirement is low. As of April of this year according to the Michigan Medicaid Blood Lead Testing Report, statewide, 66% of children are tested at or on their 2nd birthday and 74% for 3 year olds. Take a look at the full report.

  • Outside of Medicaid, there are few—if any—state recommendations for blood lead testing made available to parents (Arkansas, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming). This creates confusion and leaves parents—like some of you—with many unanswered questions. How are you to know when, how, or where to get your child(ren) tested if such information is not accessible to you? 

  • States also use confusing terminology within their guidelines that makes it difficult for even medical professionals to know when testing a child is required. Put it simply, the wording is confusing. Some words gives the impression that testing should take place, while others use words like shall make it clear testing is mandatory.

  • Only 10 states plus the District of Columbia requires universal screening. With most of these states require testing for children between the ages of 1 and 2. Michigan is not one of them.

  • Some of those states with universal screening have differing requirements. Age at which testing takes place, areas where testing is required, and the number of times a child is tested are some of these differing requirements.

Should your child or grandchild be tested for lead?

A good place to start is by educating yourself and talking with your pediatrician.