The headlines have brought this issue from the comforts of our screens (both television and mobile) to discussions round the dinner table. Whatever your perspective on the Flint water crisis, more people are aware of lead exposure and its potential damage to children, but according to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department, the issue is broader, particularly as it relates to the city. "This issue of lead is really an issue of infrastructure across the entire country, specifically, when you talk about Detroit," Khaldun says. "We know that over 90 percent of homes were built before 1978. Some people were still using that lead paint even into the 1980s. The issue of lead in the city of Detroit is really about this issue of aging homes and chipping and peeling paint in those homes."
The problem arises when children get lead dust or paint chips on their hands, which many put it in their mouths – that's the primary reason they're getting exposed to lead. Awareness, Khaldun adds, is incredibly important. "Over the past 18 months, we've really expanded the work we've been doing around educating the community, making sure children are getting tested and preventing that lead poisoning from happening." In 2016, the Detroit Health Department developed a coalition of city departments and community partners to coordinate childhood lead prevention and removal in the City. Called Lead Safe Detroit, this Lead Safe Detroit Coalition provides health services and lead education, removes hazardous lead sources in homes, conducts school and home water testing, improves compliance of rental owners and strengthens environmental standards for lead.
Members of the coalition include: the Detroit Health Department (DHD), Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), Detroit Building Authority (DBA), Buildings Safety and Engineering Department (BSEED), Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD), Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), Detroit Public Schools (DPS), Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), Detroit Housing Commission (DHC), ClearCorps Detroit, and Wayne State University's Green and Healthy Homes Initiative. Strong partnerships such as these are crucial to making gains in this area. This past summer, the DHD launched a pilot project in Detroit to reach – and hopefully prevent – children who have elevated lead levels. "Literally, we are knocking on every single door in those five zip codes, providing education," Khaldun says. "We're actually offering in-home lead tests for children under the age of 6. So far, in a couple of months, we've knocked on (a lot of) doors." And the goal is to continue these efforts.
The Detroit Health Department sends out lead advocates and nurses to visit homes with children under the age of 6 affected by lead. At these home visits, staff educate families on how to prevent future lead exposure, identify lead exposures, and refer families to abatement programs. Additionally, the Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD) provides investigations for homes of children under 6 with elevated blood lead levels and lead abatement for homes with lead, and the Buildings Safety Environment and Engineering Department (BSEED) provides lead education to rental owners, inspects rental units for lead, and issues violations to non-compliant landlords.
"The goal is (that) no child should be exposed to lead," Khaldun says. "What we really have to focus on is that primary prevention – not waiting till someone's tested. Let's let folks know there is a risk – let's knock on their door, provide that testing for their home and their child, and then we'll continue to expand." That expansion has meant an additional grant to test pregnant women, and additionally, they are working with about 30 head start programs providing lead testing. "The takeaway is there are risks in the environment … people need to be thinking about their home," she says. "If you're in one of those top five zip codes, everybody needs to know about the risk."
The Detroit Health Department recommends that all children in Detroit under the age of 6 be tested for lead every year. A lead test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning. Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick.
Ways to Get Your Child Tested:
– Call the toll-free number on the back of your child's health insurance card to make an appointment for a lead test with your pediatrician or other health care provider.
– You can also make an appointment at Children's Hospital Pediatrics by calling 313-745-KIDS (5437).
– The Detroit Health Department also provides lead testing at the Samaritan Center (5555 Connor, Detroit, MI 48213). Call 313-410-8142 to make an appointment.
Visit detroitmi.gov/LeadSafe for more information or call the Detroit Health Department Lead Prevention and Intervention program at 313-876-0133 for lead safe services.