Meeting held to address lead poisonings in Kent Co.

A meeting was held for those concerned about an increase of lead poisoning in Kent County on Nov. 30, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Concerned residents had the opportunity to question officials about lead poisoning in Kent County Thursday night.

Last year, commissioners called for a lead task force to address a spike in lead-poisoned children in the county.

In 2016, 615 kids in Kent County tested for elevated blood lead levels, most of the cases fell in the 49507 area code.

One of the poisoned children’s grandmother was in the audience Thursday night. He will be 4 years old in December.

“It feels good they’re looking into it so my own grandson can get better, which he is getting better,” Lisa Matthews said. “It can affect his speech. It can affect his thinking. It can affect his behavior. I’m learning all this stuff. It can affect a lot of areas in his life.”

Those speaking at the meeting explained newborns to 5-year-olds are most vulnerable to lead poisoning. In this particular case, paint and dust are the main sources of exposure — making it easy for small traces to get on their fingers and then become ingested.

Removing lead from all homes is no easy task, though. Most of the affected homes were built before lead was removed from paint. Additionally, completely removing lead from a home could cost upwards of $40,000.

Given most of the homes are in low-income areas, educating people on the problem is the best plan of action right now.

“What I hear the most is, ‘We don’t know so we don’t care because we don’t know,'” Tabitha Williams said.

She has become a parent advocate through the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan and urged task force members to continue the dialogue with parents and teachers in the community.

“You have to educate (parents). You’re not going to be concerned about something you have no knowledge of,” she added.

The county has secured seven federal grants since 2003 to help make 1,300 homes safe. They’re still working to secure more funding, but also made residents aware of financial assistance programs if their homes test positive.

More information can be found on the Kent County Health Department’s website.