Monday, November 9, 2015

Flint crisis shows need for further investment in statewide lead programs, advocates say

Lansing, MICH. – As city and state officials work toward reestablishing a safe drinking water supply for the city of Flint, health advocates say the crisis highlights the need for further measures to protect Michigan children from lead hazards that are common in communities across Michigan.

Corrosive Flint River water caused lead from plumbing to leach into drinking water, exposing children, pregnant women and other vulnerable residents to dangerous levels of lead. 

Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage that can lead to lowered IQ, memory problems and aggressive behavior. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 updated its lead guidelines, noting that there is no safe level of exposure. 

“It is heartbreaking that, simply because they drank the water at their home or school, or were fed formula made with tainted water, some of these children will struggle for the rest of their lives from the cognitive impacts of lead poisoning,” said Tina Reynolds, coordinator of the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing (MIALSH).

“Their personal suffering will also be a great loss to our state,” Reynolds added, noting that childhood lead exposure costs Michigan $330 million a year in decreased lifetime earnings and increased costs for health care, crime and special education. “We must do more to protect the next generation and give them a fair chance to succeed.” 

Amy Zaagman, executive director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, noted the potential long-range effects of lead poisoning. 

“New research is demonstrating that when a pregnant woman is exposed to lead, it’s not only the child she’s carrying who is affected, but also her grandchildren,” Zaagman said. “Lead poisoning is irreversible and the consequences for future generations must be addressed.” 

While tainted water had terrible consequences in Flint, experts say lead-based paint and lead dust is a far more common way that Michigan children are exposed to lead hazards. About 70 percent of the state’s homes were built before 1978, when lead paint was outlawed. Children in those homes can ingest lead through innocent behaviors, such as crawling in paint dust and then putting fingers in their mouths. 

Statewide, more than 5,000 children had blood lead levels that exceed the CDC’s reference level for lead exposure in 2014. Only 20 percent of children are tested each year, so the true figures are likely much higher. Lead poisoning is especially prevalent in urban centers like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint. 

“As a parent, I fully understand and share the public outrage over the poisoning of Flint’s children through drinking water,” said Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. “That said, I think it’s equally outrageous that we haven’t done more to protect Michigan’s kids from unsafe exposure to lead paint, given how common it is in older homes and all we know about its health effects. It’s a more complicated problem that will take longer to fix, but we need to get the job done.” 

MIALSH partners have secured much-needed state funding in each of the past three years for programs to prevent lead poisoning and provide help to afflicted families. The state’s 2016 budget includes $1.75 million for those programs. 

“My organization and other MIALSH members applaud Michigan lawmakers for making funding available to protect children from lead poisoning,” said Mary Sue Schottenfels, executive director of CLEARCorps/Detroit. “We think the situation in Flint only underscores the need for continued increases in investment for those programs. Unlike so many public health issues, we know exactly how to eradicate this problem. It’s simply a matter of political will.” 

MIALSH urges Michigan residents to take the following steps to protect children from lead poisoning: 
  • Get all children birth through age 5 tested if they live or spend considerable time in a house or day care facility built before 1978. 
  • When renovating pre-1978 housing, assume all paint is lead-based and use lead-safe work practices. (
  • When hiring contractors, make sure they are RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) Certified by the Environmental Protection Agency. (
  • Get your home tested for lead—see the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services/Healthy Homes Section website ( for a list of certified Lead Inspector/Risk Assessors. 
Additional resources to keep your family safe are available at: 


Friday, November 6, 2015

October 25-31, 2015 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

October 25-31st is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week and was kicked off by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). States like Michigan participate and help elevate awareness during this week to reach as many families as possible. Fall is a prime time to find high lead levels in a child. Summer months of playing in the yard around older homes along with open windows and doors with compromised lead paint increases the chance for lead exposure. Doctors appointments in the fall associated with "back to school" and ill child visits, can uncover this lead exposure so fall is a typical time we see spikes in lead blood levels. The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program shared a 2015 Lead Poisoning Prevention Week Toolkit. Click here to visit their website and download it.