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Budget plan a missed opportunity to protect Michigan kids from lead poisoning

MEC and MIALSH partners call for bold action to eliminate lead hazards
Jun 8, 2016
Funding for statewide lead poisoning prevention programs proposed Tuesday by a state budget panel falls far short of what's needed to protect Michigan children from the preventable but irreversible brain damage caused by the toxic metal, environmental health advocates say. 

A conference committee's budget recommendation for the Department of Health and Human Services maintains annual general fund support for lead abatement programs at $1.75 million. The proposed funding is only enough to make about 100 Michigan homes lead-safe. 

The Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH) earlier called on legislators to dedicate $6.75 million to address the hazards in the homes of 10 percent of lead-exposed children statewide. 

"This is a missed opportunity to tap into intense public interest and awareness of lead hazards," said Tina Reynolds, health policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council and coalition manager for MIALSH. "Now is the time to beef up our state's investment in making homes lead-safe. We recognize this is a very tough budget year and appreciate the continued funding included in the budget, but if ever there was a time for bold action on behalf of Michigan's lead-poisoned kids, this is it." 

Michigan's rate of childhood lead poisoning is well above the national average. New state data indicate that lead poisoning is not only a serious problem in Flint, Detroit and other major cities, but in urban and rural communities across the state. Kids up to 6 years old in 50 of Michigan's 83 counties had blood lead levels above the federal enforcement level in 2015, with the highest percentage in rural Lenawee County at 10 percent. The true number of lead-afflicted children in Michigan is likely much higher than the state data indicate, since many kids aren't tested. 

"As families become more aware of lead issues and get their children tested, the number of known lead-poisoned children most likely will rise," said Mary Sue Schottenfels, executive director of CLEARCorps Detroit. "Michigan needs to make the investment to end this serious but solvable crisis. We can pay the cost of prevention now or pay the cost of lead poisoning later. Meanwhile, our children's brain power and productive futures hang in the balance." 

Research has shown that addressing lead hazards in Michigan homes would require an investment of $600 million to remediate 100,000 high-risk housing units, but would pay for itself after three years compared with the ongoing costs of lead exposure. 

"The tragedy in Flint has put a national spotlight on lead issues, and it's time for Michigan to set an example for other states of how to address lead hazards head-on," said Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. "We need strong leadership from the state's new Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board and from the Legislature to resolve the environmental sources of lead poisoning in Michigan, making our state a place where all kids grow up healthy and strong." 

There is no safe blood lead level for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead poisoning causes permanent brain damage linked to diminished IQ, difficulty learning and behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and hyperactivity that contribute to above-average incarceration rates for lead-poisoning victims. Lead-poisoned children are seven times more likely to drop out of high school and six times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system.

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Andy McGlashen: (517) 420-1908
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