Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New study shows traces of lead in spices

Lead pipes, contaminated soil and paint chips in pre-1978 homes are common sources of lead exposure for children. Recently however researchers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services concluded that cooking spices, herbal remedies and ceremonial powders should be added to that list as well. The study tested chili powder, red pepper, cumin, coriander, anise, turmeric and vanilla in 983 homes from January 2011 to January 2018 and found that spices in 7 of the homes had high levels of lead. As for how lead was able to get into these spices, researchers point to imports. The U.S. imports 95% of its spices from countries with heavy pollution from battery-manufacturing plants, mines and leaded gasoline. Additionally, spices are brought back into the country from travelers or purchased online.

Spices are not considered a source of food for kids by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite some being popular flavor choices for the age group. Vanilla, for example is used in sweets frequently consumed by children such as cupcakes, ice cream and milkshakes. In addition, there are many children whose parents come from cultures where spices are used more in cooking like Southeast Asia. Even more problematic and concerning is the fact that there is currently no limit on lead contamination in spices. For children, there is no safe blood lead level, and even low levels of exposure can lower IQ and decrease concentration. Adults are not protected from the effects of lead either; according to the CDC, men and women experience high blood pressure, reproductive issues, nerve complications, joint pain and concentration issues after consuming lead.

The researchers who performed the study recommend that “lead investigators samples spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders and attempt to document product origin and level of consumptions.” In addition, food regulators should test the products for lead and other heavy metals at the port. Finally, they urge the U.S. set a national limit on amount of lead allowed in spices. More on the study can be read here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

National Lead Prevention Awareness Week

Sunday, October 21 marked the beginning of this year’s National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week to draw attention to this important issue. During National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, individuals, communities, organizations, industries, and state and local governments come together to increase lead awareness. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are agencies that also contribute resources and expertise in educating the public about the toxin and lead poisoning prevention. This year the CDC is particularly focused on encouraging families to get their homes and children tested. There will be webinars on these topics and more throughout the week, which can be accessed here:

At the state level, Michigan’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) and the Healthy Homes section of Michigan Department of Health & Human Service (MDHHS) participate in lead prevention efforts year round. CLPPP provides Michigan residents with lead poisoning education, blood lead level surveillance, and health services for families with children at risk of lead poisoning or with elevated blood lead levels. The Healthy Homes section then helps these families receive lead abatement services. More information on CLPPP and Healthy Homes can be found on the MDHHS website:

For resources and information to use in your community during National Lead Prevention Week, a Partner Information Kit is available for free on the CDC’s website: Interested in helping at the state and regional level to end lead poisoning in Michigan? Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes is always seeking new members to join the coalition! Please contact Tina Reynolds at with any questions.

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:

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: