GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time this century, the number of Grand Rapids children poisoned by lead has increased.
That’s according to the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, which released preliminary numbers Thursday based on blood samples taken from children ages five and younger.
UPTICK IN CASES
The organization found 11 percent of Grand Rapids children tested last year had elevated blood lead levels, up from 8.2 percent the year prior. It’s also nearly double Kent County’s rate of 6.2 percent.
The total number of Grand Rapids children that tested positive for elevated blood lead levels was 465, up from 359 cases the year prior.
However, the number of blood lead levels in the city have dropped dramatically since 2005, when 1,448 children ages five or younger tested had elevated blood lead levels.
HARDEST HIT AREAS
The Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan found in 2014, the 49507 zip code ranked second in the state for the number of children age five or younger that had elevated blood lead levels in tests.
The zip code encompasses southeast Grand Rapids, which is also home to some of the highest poverty rates in the city.
Fourteen percent of children tested from this zip code had elevated blood lead levels.
Children living in the 49503 and 49504 zip codes were also at higher risk of having elevated blood lead levels in 2014, with 192 cases altogether. Among Michigan’s 1,169 zip codes, they ranked 18th and 20th respectively.
The Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan said the main source of lead poisoning in Grand Rapids was lead-based paint in older homes.
According to the organization, of the 65,00 housing units in Grand Rapids that were build before lead-based paint was banned in the U.S., 40,000 of them have a lead-based paint hazard. A majority of those – 36,000 units – are inhabited, the coalition said.
The group said water has not been the leading cause of lead poisoning in Kent County in more than a decade. In fact, Grand Rapids city officials reported lead drinking levels hit their lowest level in years last month.
“With all the attention on lead poisoning as a result of the situation in Flint, people in Grand Rapids are asking similar questions. Parents are right to be concerned because, while our water is safe, we still have a lot of older houses in Grand Rapids that need to have lead hazards addressed,” said Paul Haan, Executive Director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan in a Thursday news release.
TOWN HALL MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY
In front of a packed house Thursday night during a town hall meeting at Linc Galley in southeast Grand Rapids, Juanita Sanchez stood up and told her story of her three-year-old daughter testing positive for lead.
“She was raised in that home, you know, since she was born. So we are currently out of that house now because the landlord told us that it wasn’t his problem,” Sanchez said. “Out of 40, the house tested a 29 in just the living room. So that was pretty high, I was kind of shocked.
Sanchez was not the only mom with a similar story.
“For her to be almost four years old, she is not talking how she is supposed to. I actually want to cry right now,” another mother said.
Much of the discussion at the meeting was about how to solve the problem.
“You have to decide what you value. Do you value the buck? Or do you value the baby’s brain? And for me that is an easy choice,” said David May, a volunteer with the Healthy Homes Coalition.
Leaders say it starts with removal of lead from homes by stripping house paint.
The City of Grand Rapids is continuing its program to help with that removal, and a good portion of the homes impacted in the southeast side of the city. The price, according to the Healthy Homes Coalition, to remove the lead-based paint is more than $10,000.