GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Flint water crisis is shining a national spotlight on the troubling issue of lead poisoning in kids. But it’s not just a problem on the east side of the state.
According to the most recently released state report, which is from 2013, a couple neighborhoods in Grand Rapids — specifically the 49507 zip code on the city’s southeast side — are leading the state for the most lead-poisoned children. The 49503 zip code is a trouble area as well.
The water isn’t the issue here. It’s the thousands of older homes with lead-based paint.
Randi Challender and her daughter Nyicear used to live in an older rental home in Grand Rapids. The Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan stopped by to address some issues and suggested Randi test her then-10-month old for lead poisoning.
The tests came back and confirmed that Nyicear, now 5 years old, had dangerously elevated lead levels. She was admitted to the hospital.
“50 (ug/dL) was very high and very dangerous. And with lead poisoning, it affects more than people realize. Quite honestly, Nyicear didn’t eat it. She didn’t lick it. She was exposed to lead though the air,” Challender said.
That’s how it happens for most people who are affected. Lead dust and paint chips found in and around homes built before 1978 can be ingested by small children. After 1978, the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint.
Paul Haan and the Healthy Homes Coalition work are part of the “Get the Lead Out!” program. Over the past 10 years, the city has secured federal funding for the program to help make about 1,500 local homes lead-safe.
But now that contract is up, and while there is state assistance, Haan hopes they can secure those federal dollars again by summertime.
“Lead is not something in the past. It’s still here. When you’ve got 370, 400 kids (in Kent County) that have a neurotoxin in their blood that’s causing brain damage — it’s here,” Haan said.
Now in kindergarten, Nyicear is nearly below the risk level (5 ug/dL) for lead poisoning. That’s the good news. But her mom says she was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and has issues with sensitivity in her hands. noth of which may be connected to the elevated lead levels.
“This is a big problem and there’s not as many people out there that are aware of it, and we need to get the word out there,” Challender said.
“The increase in kids that have been exposed in Flint is a big problem. It’s a problem that needs to be rectified and is virtually inexcusable,” Haan said. “That being said, I think that there’s still a significant number of kids in many other communities that are being affected by paint. So it’s not an either-or proposition. The water situation is terrible and we’re still dealing with lead in houses. It’s both.”
There are lead disclosure laws, but Haan acknowledged that they’re pretty flimsy. If a home or apartment was built before 1978, landlords are required to warn tenants of the possibility of lead-based paint. Beyond that, landlords are required to disclose all known lead hazards — but if they’re not known, there’s nothing to disclose. There is no requirement to test for or remove lead hazards.
Haan said one solution would be to require all homes and apartments be made lead-safe before they’re rented or sold. But he said “there’s not the public will” for that.
“I’ve got to ask — what is the responsibility of the lending community when we sell a house that has a hazard? Currently we kind of overlook it and say, ‘Oh, no big deal, you know, lead.’ Should there be some responsibility there? What about the kids that aren’t getting tested? There’s certainly responsibility there,” Haan said.
If you’re concerned about possible lead hazards in your home, there are resources available for you.