Detroit’s lead poi­son­ing rates top Flint’s

De­spite lessons in Ge­ne­see Co., rates are ris­ing across Michi­gan

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY STEPHANIE STEIN­BERG | The Detroit News BY KAREN BOUFFARD AND CHRIS­TINE MACDON­ALD The Detroit News

Near the tip of the Up­per Penin­sula in the small com­mu­nity of Chas­sell, Tammy Waisa­nen found the per­fect build­ing to run her sauna busi­ness. She started Ke­weenaw Saunas in 2014 to man­u­fac­ture por­ta­ble bar­rel saunas that home­own­ers could place in their back­yard. The me­tal build­ing she bought along U.S. 41 had 3-foot-long clock hands at­tached to the ex­te­rior and old wiring snaked through the wall, lead­ing to an oil reser­voir and mo­tor. Waisa­nen had passed the clock ev­ery day on the way to work since the late 1980s.

“I have al­ways loved that clock, not know­ing the his­tory it had be­hind it,” said Waisa­nen, 47.

About two months ago, she no­ticed a brown manila en­ve­lope on a shelf near the clock’s old wirings. Photos by, clock­wise from top: Detroit News ar­chive, David Ar­cham­beau, Stephane Stein­berg, Detroit News ar­chives and David Ar­cham­beau.

Detroit had Michi­gan’s high­est pro­por­tion of chil­dren test pos­i­tive for lead poi­son­ing in 2016 — 8.8 per­cent of kids tested — in­clud­ing one ZIP code where 22 per­cent were found to have lead poi­son­ing.

Data from the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices show chil­dren are be­ing sick­ened by lead in coun­ties from Manis­tee to Hills­dale and St. Clair, though the rates of lead poi­son­ing in Flint con­tinue to im­prove.

Just 1.8 per­cent tested pos­i­tive for lead poi­son­ing in Ge­ne­see County, where hun­dreds of Flint chil­dren were ex­posed to lead-tainted wa­ter af­ter the city switched its wa­ter source in 2014.

High blood lead lev­els can lead to de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems, be­hav­ioral dis­or­ders and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. It’s a com­mon prob­lem na­tion­wide in ci­ties that have large num­bers of homes built be­fore 1978, when lead-based paints were banned from use in hous­ing.

Un­der fed­eral guide­lines, med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion is rec­om­mended for chil­dren 6 and younger who have blood lead lev­els higher than 5 mi­cro­grams per deciliter.

Statewide, the per­cent­age of chil­dren tested who were found to have el­e­vated blood lev­els in­creased from 3.4 per­cent in 2015 to 3.6 per­cent last year. It was the state’s first in­crease, ac­cord­ing to records dat­ing back to 1998.

Jack­son County had the sec­ond high­est rate of lead poi­son­ing, with high blood lead lev­els in 7.6 per­cent of chil­dren tested. Cal­houn and St. Joseph coun­ties tied for third high­est rate, at 6.4 per­cent. In Wayne County out­side of Detroit, 2.1 per­cent of kids tested had el­e­vated blood lead lev­els.

A 2016 Detroit Health Depart­ment study found a link be­tween lead poi­son­ing and hous­ing de­mo­li­tions in the city, where 93 per­cent of homes were built be­fore 1978, ac­cord­ing to city data, and first re­ported Tues­day by Bridge mag­a­zine. The risk was most sig­nif­i­cant for kids who live within 200 feet of a de­mo­li­tion, es­pe­cially those that oc­cur be­tween May and Septem­ber.

Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the Detroit Health Depart­ment di­rec­tor, said re­duc­ing lead ex­po­sure is a top health pri­or­ity in the city, where the lead poi­son­ing rate in­creased from 7.5 per­cent in 2015. Detroit’s lead poi­son­ing rate de­creased by half be­tween 2009 and 2015.

“Quite frankly, it’s re­ally be­cause of the old hous­ing stocks that Detroit has,” Khaldun said. “Most kids who are get­ting ex­posed to lead ... are get­ting ex­posed through lead paint in their homes, and so we’ve re­ally been try­ing to fo­cus on pri­mary pre­ven­tion.”


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