Lenawee Co. leads Mich. in kids’ elevated lead levels

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

A higher percentage of children tested positive for lead poisoning in Lenawee County — not Detroit or Flint — than kids tested in any other Michigan county, according to data the state health department released Monday.

There is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can cause significant health problems including developmental delays and behavior disorders in children, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children are sickened by lead across Michigan — from the northwest reaches of the Upper Peninsula near Wisconsin to the Ohio border, the new report showed. In 2015, children in 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties had blood lead levels at or above the federal enforcement level — or about 3.4 percent of the nearly 5,000 children age 6 or younger who were tested as part of Michigan’s efforts to combat childhood lead poisoning.

But in Lenawee County, in southeast Michigan near Toledo, 10 percent of children tested had lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or greater — a level that is much higher than those in most children and can hurt their development, according to the federal data the state released.

“Overall it’s about where we were last year, but it varies county to county and even ZIP code to ZIP code,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner when asked how the preliminary data compare with last year’s numbers.

“It’s an important reminder that we have to stay vigilant. We know that no level is safe, and it’s important for parents to know to ask questions and take their concerns to their pediatrician,” Eisner added.

Detroit finished second with 7.5 percent of its children testing positive for lead poisoning, and Kent County — home to the state’s second largest city of Grand Rapids — was fourth.

Lead poisoning by Michigan county

Significant numbers of children from Gogebic to Bay City also tested positive for blood lead levels that can result in behavioral disorders and losses in academic achievement, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response to the report, some statewide activists called for increased funding for lead abatement and testing to be included in the 2017 state budget, which lawmakers are set to vote on this week in Lansing.

“Policymakers should pay attention to these numbers in their districts, because this isn’t a Detroit issue or a Flint issue; this is a statewide issue,” said Tina Reynolds, health policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

The Legislature is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on nutritional, educational and other aid to help Flint’s children try to counter the effects of lead-contaminated water they drank.

Among children living in the Lenawee community of Adrian’s 49221 ZIP code, 13 percent or 67 of 515 kids tested showed high levels of the dangerous toxin.

Because the data is provisional, it could change by the time it is finalized.

National ranking unclear

It’s hard to know how Michigan compares with other states on children’s lead exposure because a small number of states report such data to the CDC, an agency spokeswoman said Monday. She added that states with an aggressive lead testing program may appear to have higher lead exposure rates.

The Michigan Environmental Council said it believes Michigan ranks fourth or fifth highest in the nation for lead exposure, Reynolds said.

In Genesee County, where Flint residents were exposed to lead through the city’s water supply from April 2014 through October 2015, 2.3 percent were shown to have lead levels over the federal benchmark. The percentage ranked 34th highest among Michigan’s counties.

The report didn’t include a breakdown showing how many of the children are Flint residents.

As the state’s largest city and the most impoverished, Detroit had the most kids affected by elevated blood lead levels at 1,618 children. When the data was broken down by ZIP codes, Detroit had six areas among the top 10 for elevated lead levels in the state and Highland Park had one.

Testing revealed that all four of Renea Robinson’s children had elevated levels of the dangerous toxin in their blood. The family lives in a two-family flat built in 1925 in southwest Detroit’s 48204 ZIP code area, where more than 14 percent of children tested positive for lead exposure.

The 29-year-old mom said 12-year-old Aalyssica Robinson; 6-year-old Davien Woods Jr.; Jaden Woods, 5, and 3-year-old DaShawn Woods were exposed to lead paint that bubbled up and chipped off her kitchen walls.

All of the children sleep too much, and Davien has suffered from severe headaches and rashes, Robinson said. She said she worries how lead exposure will affect their brain development.

“As far as the development issue, I haven’t seen any issue just yet, but I’m keeping a close eye on it just to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Robinson said.

Variety of potential causes

The state is working in some Grand Rapids and Detroit neighborhoods to address the lead issue, Eisner said. Residents can contact their county health departments for information on testing, lead abatement and other concerns, she said.

Among children tested in the remainder of Wayne County, excluding Detroit, 307 of 18,004 children tested positive, or 1.7 percent. Oakland and Macomb counties had respective marks of 1.4 percent and 1.1 percent — below the state average of 3.4 percent.

The Lenawee communities of Adrian and Morenci had the sixth and seventh highest marks by ZIP code in the state, while Grand Rapids had the third highest.

Data wasn’t immediately available from the state on the percentage of children in each county who were tested. Paint, gasoline, solder, consumer products and air pollution all may contribute to high levels of lead in children’s blood.

Medicaid, the state-federal health program aimed at low-income families, covers blood testing statewide. It requires that children be tested for blood lead poisoning at 12 months and 24 months of age, or between 36 and 72 months if they’ve not yet been tested, Eisner said.