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Detroit Health Department Launches New Lead Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program

  • City Council approves Health Department Request for $1.25M in new funding
  • City forms first ever Interagency Lead Poisoning Prevention Task Force
  • Number of Detroit children with elevated blood lead levels down 88% over past 20 years

DETROIT - The Detroit Health Department today announced the launch of the City’s Interagency Lead Poisoning Prevention Task Force, and with it, a shift in its approach to preventing lead poisoning in Detroit’s children, the City’s Health Director Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun announced today.

The task force will look at all potential lead hazards, but will focus primarily on lead paint in children’s homes. Lead paint is the well-known primary cause of lead poisoning in Detroit, where most homes were built well before 1978 when lead paint was outlawed. The change in approach comes after months of interagency discussions and strategic planning. 

As part of a pilot program that will begin this summer, the Detroit Health Department, Housing and Revitalization Department, and Building, Safety and Engineering Departments will proactively target lead strategies in the top five zip codes where recent data show there is the highest prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in Detroit’s children (48202, 48204, 48206, 48213, and 48214).  This pilot will include door-to-door outreach to homes to identify places where there are children and pregnant women, identifying potential lead hazards, in-home lead testing of children, and education on how to protect themselves, before a child is poisoned. 

The city will also align future rental code ordinance enforcement target ZIP codes based on where there is a high prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in children.  These new approaches differ in strategy from former city efforts, which focused more on supporting families of children who already are known to have an elevated blood lead level.  The City will continue to support these families, but this new funding will allow them to also identify lead hazards prior to knowing if a child is poisoned. 

“We are transitioning from a reactive to a proactive approach to lead poisoning prevention, and to do this takes the collaboration of multiple agencies and partners,” said Dr. Khaldun, an emergency physician and the Director and Health Officer for the City of Detroit Health Department.  “We know the main cause of lead poisoning in Detroit’s children is lead paint in homes, and this strategy aims to target that, before a child is poisoned.”

The move will align City departments around lead poisoning prevention efforts, and also includes the Office of Sustainability, Detroit Water and Sewage Department, Detroit Building Authority, Detroit Land Bank Authority, the Department of Neighborhoods, and Workforce Development.

“HRD is pleased to be a part of this Interagency Lead Task Force and will be aligning all our department’s lead hazard efforts with this strategy,” said Arthur Jemison, Director of Housing & Revitalization. “We are pleased to begin to turn toward a more proactive approach to this critical issue.”

While the City has been recognized for the safest demolition protocols in the country, a preliminary report released by the Health Department suggested a potential association between demolitions and elevated blood lead levels in children. Given the study’s limitations, however, the health department is seeking an external evaluator to do a robust assessment of the public health impacts of demolitions in Detroit, including lead. It also is implementing more stringent protocols and will continue to assess the need to implement additional measures.

Lead poisoning is preventable, and can cause severe issues with brain development, including learning disabilities.  Over the past 20 years, the number of children in Detroit with elevated blood lead levels has dropped by nearly 90 percent.  In 2017, however, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released preliminary data suggesting that Detroit’s percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels increased slightly from 7.5% in 2015 to 8.8% in 2016.

The City will be looking for additional support from public and private funders to support lead poisoning prevention efforts.