A Roadmap to Eliminating Child Lead Exposure

In June of 2016, Governor Snyder created the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board by Executive Order to address childhood lead poisoning in Michigan in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Seven medical, advocacy, and policy experts, including Ecology Center Deputy Director Rebecca Meuninck, were appointed by Governor Snyder and served on the Board. Board members quickly agreed that addressing lead poisoning in Michigan was insufficient, and decided to tackle the larger issue of lead exposure in our state. On November 17th, the Board released its report, “A Roadmap to Eliminating Child Lead Exposure,” which calls for a comprehensive, state-wide plan to end child lead exposure, with areas of high lead exposure given highest priority. Board members are optimistic that Michigan has the knowledge and tools to end this completely preventable public health crisis. 

Right now we are still using children as lead detectors in homes. This Roadmap calls for a paradigm shift to investigate homes, schools, and daycares for sources of lead exposure and to remediate them before they poison a child.

— Rebecca Meuninck, Ecology Center Deputy Director

The Ecology Center is supportive of the recommendations and Roadmap as a whole. Several key recommendations would shift lead investigation and abatement efforts to focus on primary prevention or preventing exposure to lead before it happens. “Right now we are still using children as lead detectors in homes,” said Meuninck. “This Roadmap calls for a paradigm shift to investigate homes, schools, and daycares for sources of lead exposure and to remediate them before they poison a child.” While there will be economic costs to remediating lead paint, plumbing and contaminated soils the costs of remediation were put into context with the high costs of lead poisoning in Michigan. According to the Ecology Center’s recent report, Costs of Lead Exposure and Remediation in Michigan: Update, childhood lead exposure costs more that $270 million dollars a year from associated decreased lifetime earnings, increased adult crime and juvenile delinquency, special education, and healthcare costs. 

In agreement with the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, another Governor-created board, the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board believes that a permanent commission should be created to coordinate efforts to remediate and abate lead-contaminated environments across Michigan.

“We have the knowledge and tools in Michigan to end lead poisoning and this Roadmap is a critical first step on that path,” said Meuninck. “Ongoing efforts must continue to be coordinated, swift, focused on primary prevention, as well as prioritize action for low-income areas and communities of color where exposure rates are the highest.”

The Board focused recommendations on four key areas:

  1. Test every child in Michigan for lead and follow-up with medical care and case management for children with elevated blood levels. Testing all children will also allow for targeted remediation efforts in areas of concern.
  2. Regularly monitor buildings, soil, water, consumer products, air, homes, and infrastructure for lead. State and local standards for actionable levels of lead in any of these should meet or exceed the strictest federal standards. This environmental data should be available to the public.
  3. State and local governments should fund lead remediation and abatement projects in contaminated homes. Governmental agencies should move quickly to ameliorate contamination as soon as it is detected. They should also focus on educating the public about their rights as renters and citizens, and how to avoid lead exposure in their everyday life.
  4. Create a single, up-to-date data system that captures both blood lead testing data and environmental data regarding sources of potential exposure in the environment. Currently, data on child lead exposure is fragmented, incomplete, and hard to access and interpret. The report recommends the state set up dashboards, websites, mobile apps, and other displays to map lead exposure in Michigan to target clean-up efforts and get this information to the public.

The Ecology Center and our allies in the public health, healthcare, and environmental justice sectors have been working for years to end child lead exposure in Michigan. This Report outlines how we can get there, but necessitates heavy lifting from our state and local governments. The Board and the Ecology Center urges the Michigan Legislature to take on the challenge and opportunity presented by lead exposure in Michigan. As the world watches, we can transform Michigan into a healthy, thriving community, but can’t do it alone. We need your help. Here’s what you can do today: First, take action and call on the legislature to support policies to end lead poisoning in our state, then support our on-going efforts to end childhood lead poisoning in Michigan by making a tax-deductible gift.