More lead exposure testing, services for Detroit kids

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city Health Department is testing more Detroit children for lead and boosting exposure services to help families.

Between April and July, the Detroit Health Department said it has conducted 30 percent more lead tests for children than during the same period in 2015.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the department’s executive director, said Wednesday that 8,165 Detroit children were tested during the second quarter of this year, compared with 5,849 tested last year.

The city, he said, has been testing for elevated levels of lead in blood among eligible children receiving immunizations or Women, Infants, and Children benefits across department clinics.

“The goal is two things; to make sure we are aware of every child that’s lead exposed in Detroit and then get every child that has been exposed access to every possible service we can provide,” he said.

The increased testing is among the stepped-up efforts of the department to address lead exposure in the city.

This spring, the health department also brought together the citywide coalition Lead Safe Detroit to reduce environmental hazards in homes and curb lead exposure.

In April, the department released a report that found the number of Detroit children under 6 with elevated levels of lead in their blood has dropped by more than half in the past six years.

The proportion of children under age 6 with elevated lead blood levels went from 19 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2015, the report noted. In the study, Detroit relied on lead blood level testing conducted on 2,167 children at physician offices in Detroit in 2015 and reported to the state.

The decrease has been attributed in part to the removal of blighted homes — more than 10,000 have come down since 2014 — as well as lead abatement and continued education and outreach by the health department’s Lead Team.

Although the levels have dropped, the city still has a lead poisoning rate of about 9 percent, which is more than twice the 2014 Michigan statewide average of 3.5 percent, the report concluded.

Before Lead Safe Detroit was created, the city hadn’t been doing a good job of coordinating its lead exposure services, El-Sayed said. For several years, the city conducted no lead testing for children.

The coalition, made up of building and water department, land bank and housing officials and other community agencies, in recent months has provided education for parents and caregivers, screenings and testing, home inspections and lead abatement as well as lead enforcement in rental properties.

Home lead exposure has been the main focus of the team, since 93 percent of Detroit homes were built before 1978, when lead was banned in paint.

The health department is recommending annual screenings for all children between the ages of nine months and 6 years old.

Parents who would like to have their child tested for lead should contact their pediatrician, the Detroit Medical Center Department of Pediatrics, or the Detroit Health Department’s Clinics: Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner, (313) 410-8142, and Family Place, 8726 Woodward, (313) 410-7803.