Bill proposes universal mandatory lead poisoning testing for Michigan’s children 

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Capital News Service

LANSING – A little more than 14% of Michigan 6 year olds were tested for lead poisoning in 2021. 

Health advocates say all of them should be. 

Of those tested, 3.5% had elevated levels of the contaminant that causes developmental problems in children. 

According to state health authorities the effects of lead poisoning in children may take the form of: lower IQ scores, decreased academic performance, increased problems relating to behavior and attention related disorders, decreased hearing ability and decreased kidney function. 

Sen. John Cherry, D-Flint, is sponsoring legislation to make it mandatory for children to be tested once between 9 and 12 months of age and again at ages 2 to 3. 

Michigan has the 5th-highest number of lead poisoned children in the United States, according to the Michigan Environmental Council. 

Children under 6 years old are in the most vulnerable age group for lead poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is when they are most susceptible to any factors that might hinder their development, including lead poisoning. 

Lead contamination can take place through soil, dust, air and water, said Carin Speidel, the acting environmental health director at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

“Lead is a heavy metal that was used in high concentrations in products such as gasolines, and paints and plumbing materials, where it ultimately resulted in contamination of soil and dust, air and water,” Speidel said. “What that means is that exposure to lead can harm particularly the health of a child, or the health of an unborn child.” 

The severity of negative effects depend on how long the child is exposed to the lead, although both acute and chronic exposure can be potentially dangerous, Speidel said. 

Michigan only requires children who are covered under Children’s Health Insurance Plan, or CHIP, to be tested for lead poisoning. 

The bill makes it mandatory for children to be tested again at 6 years old if they are considered ‘high risk’ for lead poisoning. Children are considered high risk if they reside in a house that was built before 1978, or if their siblings tested for elevated lead levels in their blood. 

A universal mandatory lead poisoning testing gives a consistent standard for testing, said Ruth Ann Norton, the president and CEO of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative.

“We recognize that kids are mobile, they may be going into another day care, child care, visiting others,” she said. 

The Green and Healthy Homes initiative determined that the best prevention for lead poisoning is universal testing across the state because it creates a consistent standard for doctors as well as takes the mobility of children into account. 

Lead poisoning is a “statewide issue,” according to Ellen Vial, the engagement coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Council and facilitator of Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes Coalition.

“The majority of children aren’t being tested for lead. It’s really, really vital to test all children in Michigan for lead poisoning, because so much of our housing stock was built before 1978,” she said.

One of the biggest culprits of lead poisoning in Michigan is houses built before the 1978 ban on lead based paint, Vial said. Lead enters the human body through inhalation in these scenarios. 

Some of the areas considered high-risk for lead poisoning in Michigan include Flint, Hamtramck and Benton Harbor due to lead-tainted water contamination, according to the Michigan Alliance for Families.

Also at high risk are urban areas due to the large clusters of old housing, Vial said

The other most common avenues for lead poisoning to occur is by ingestion of contaminated water through water pipes, faucets and other plumbing, according to federal health authorities. 

The severity of the effects of lead poisoning are dependent on the amount of time the child is exposed to the lead-contaminated environment. This is one of the reasons why catching lead poisoning early on is vital, Vial said. 

Testing for lead poisoning is done in two parts. Capillary testing, which is also known as the finger-prick test, is done first to check for lead in the child’s blood. If an elevated level is detected, then a venous test is given, which has the highest accuracy rate, in order to confirm the presence of lead poisoning. 

Vial said that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is working on securing funding for the blood testing through private insurers. 

Vial said that the support of the requirements is bipartisan. 

“I’m not aware of anyone who’s opposed to this bill right now,” she said. 

Norton said that the bill lacks enforcement of the mandatory testing. 

“What I think is weak is there is really no teeth in it, right? There is no mandate to require the test,” she said. “So it says that if a physician doesn’t do it, there’s no penalty. If a parent just refuses not for any particular grounds, where refuses there’s no penalty. So it’s really a guidance.”

The Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes is hosting a Lead Education Day in Lansing on May 23 and a virtual informational session on lead education on May 25h in order to promote education about lead safety. 

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