For Lead Ed Day and beyond, here are the resources you need to advocate for lead poisoning's end.
What is Lead Education Day?
Lead Education Day is a time when people of all backgrounds and experiences come together to talk to our legislators about lead poisoning and ways we can prevent it. We meet with legislators at Michigan's Capitol in Lansing, and we meet with them online. Through our own personal stories and through education, we inspire lawmakers to make change.
Event participants include physicians, nurses, housing professionals, young leaders and, most crucially, everyday Michigan advocates, some of whose families have been poisoned by lead in their own homes.
No prior experience or "expertise" in lead issues is needed. The organizers of Lead Education Day will provide the support you need before and during Lead Education Day. Plus, all of the day's events are done in groups that pair longtime "veterans" of Lead Education Day with new attendees.
The four-fold mission of Lead Education Day is the same as that of its organizer, the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, or MIALSH. This group educates key decisionmakers in our state and local governments on ways to eliminate lead poisoning in Michigan. They are:
- Testing all toddlers. We want all 1- and 2-year-old Michigan children be tested for lead to prevent poisoning. This helps them get the treatment they need and helps us identify homes to remediate.
- Better certifying contractors. We want the state of Michigan to assume responsibility for the federal Renovation, Repair and Painting program, which requires building contractors to be certified to safely work on lead in old homes. Local control ups efficiency and better helps address state-specific issues.
- Increasing lead inspections. We want to require an inspection for lead paint, soil, dust, and water before the sale or transfer of old homes. This will help us better find lead and remove it before people move in.
- Securing funding. We want Michigan and our federal government to devote more of its resources to testing and treating both children and homes for lead.
This year's Lead Education Day is especially important because two longtime top priorities—testing all toddlers and better certifying contractors—are up for consideration in the Michigan Legislature.
Before MIALSH formed in 2010 and began hosting Lead Education Day, decades passed with no significant state funding for lead cleanup programs. Thanks in part to MIALSH's education, we've helped change minds. We have helped bring the plight of lead poisoning and a lack of resources to the forefront of decision makers' minds largely by creating the space for people to tell their own personal stories. That, in turn, has lead our government to dedicate millions of dollars of funding to the cause.
We also helped get the Michigan Legislature to where it is now: considering making lead testing for all toddlers law.
Lead is a toxic metal that, when built up inside the body through ingestion, can cause poisoning that can affect nearly every part of the human body. There is NO safe level of lead.
Children six years old or younger are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, and the problems it creates can continue into adulthood.
Physical health — Studies have shown a link between lead exposure and high blood pressure, abdominal pain, slow bone growth, impaired development, kidney issues, fatigue, and blood-related issues.
Mental health — Studies have shown that, in children, lead poisoning can lower IQ levels, damage the brain and nervous system, and cause ADHD and hearing loss. In the rare chance of a high, concentrated exposure to lead, lead poisoning can cause loss of body control, coma, and even death.
Children are the most prone to lead poisoning—they are the most likely to ingest the metal, and their still-developing bodies make them the most vulnerable to its effects.
All 1- and 2-year-old children covered by Medicaid must be tested for lead. If these children haven't been tested for lead at these ages, they must be tested between the ages of 3 and 5.
While this national rule protects some of our most vulnerable children, it still leaves hundreds of thousands of Michigan children without a lead test. Not all families on Medicaid are going to a physician for a checkup, not all financially struggling Michigan families are on Medicaid, and not all families living in lead-laden homes are financially struggling.
The more we require testing, the more likely physicians are able to treat children for their lead exposure before it gets too bad. Plus, when children test positive for lead, it allows us to discover and eliminate its root cause (which is often in homes).
A bill in the Michigan Legislature would get all children tested for lead, regardless of what healthcare plan they're on. Sen. John Cherry's (D-Flint) legislation would add lead tests to children's regular checkup routines, just like an immunization.
Lead is especially dangerous because it is so widespread. While lead was banned from paint in 1978, homes built before then are still common. In fact, nearly two out of three Michigan homes fall into this category, making them the leading cause of lead poisoning. It's a problem in areas urban, suburban and rural.
Lead paint can peel off, enter water, become dust or contaminate soil. That, in turn, makes it easy for young children to ingest it.
The prevalence of old homes in Michigan makes the state have among the worst rates of lead-affected kids in the nation. Some 70% of children have some amount of the metal in their systems. Rental homes are especially prone to lead issues, as resident turnover is high and unengaged landlords may not remediate their property or provide important information to future tenants.
Proper lead abatement certifications and lead inspections are crucial because they better ensure lead is identified and kept from being exposed during building renovation or construction. But the federal program that certifies people does not have an effective strategy.
A bill in the Michigan Legislature would bring the program that helps us renovate and repair lead-poisoned homes into state control. Rep. Rachel Hood's (D-Grand Rapids) legislation would allow more building contractors to get certified in lead-safe work, who would then help keep far more children out of lead poisoning's way.
While lead is most commonly found in paint, dust, and soil, lead in water pipes and fixtures can be just as dangerous. Crises like those in Flint and Benton Harbor remind of us this.
Two places especially prone to lead entering water are schools and childcare centers. It's not just because it's where many children, who are most prone to lead poisoning, are. These buildings go through long periods where water is left sitting unused in fixtures—during holidays, weekends, and summer break. This allows lead to leach from the fixtures into the water. Schools and childcare centers new and old are at risk.
It's with deep irony that the places where children are meant to learn, grow, and make friends could also be the places whose lead poisoning is preventing such things. Children need to be protected quickly and effectively. The best way to do that is by installing systems that filter out lead on drinking fountains and taps.
Funding for schools to install these filters has already been secured. Now, we need the laws to give those funds out. Legislation by a bipartisan group of Michigan Senators and Representatives would do just that, and efforts are underway to add millions more dollars to our filter funding.
Bridge Michigan took state data and created a map of Michigan showing which zip codes had high rates of elevated blood lead levels in young children. You can view it here.
Bear in mind, however, that children covered by Medicaid are more likely to be tested for lead than those who are not. That means communities with more people using Medicaid are more likely to appear on the map. Communities with less people using Medicaid may still have a problem. That's why universal lead testing is so important. It's preventative all around.
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