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Lead testing bills pass Michigan Legislature

A child is tested for lead at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Mich., in January. Lead contaminated the city's drinking water
Carlos Osorio
A child is tested for lead at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Mich., in January. Lead contaminated the city's drinking water

Bills to require doctors to screen young children for lead poisoning passed the Michigan Legislature Tuesday.

One part of the two-bill package would require children to undergo testing at check-ups when they turn one and two years old. Depending on previous testing records and risk level, they could be tested until they’re six years old.

A second part would require those testing records to be logged on a child’s immunization certificate.

Senator John Cherry(D-Flint) co-sponsored the package. He said the goal is to protect kids against lead exposure.

“Lead is a substance that causes lifelong harm and there’s no safe amount of lead that can come into your blood stream, and this is just going to make sure that we help parents know if their child is being exposed and be able to address that exposure,” Cherry said.

Lead exposure can damage children's brains and nervous systems and impair growth and development. Lead testing is already federally required for kids on Medicaid.

But some Michigan lawmakers are questioning whether blanket testing is necessary in Michigan.

Representative Phil Green(R-Millington) was among the 42 Republicans who voted no when the legislation came up in the House last week. He said it would place too many requirements on the doctor-patient relationship.

“A doctor should be very well versed with his patient and then likewise, as you talk to the parent and say are you seeing the type of things that would cause him to order a test. Ordering tests just for the sake of ordering tests is really a poor way of doing medicine,” Green said.

In the Senate, the legislation passed by a vote of 27-10.

Senator Jim Runestad(R-White Lake) shared similar concerns as Green.

Runestad said he had an issue with the testing being a requirement rather than voluntary -- though parents could opt out of testing.

Beyond that, Runestad had concerns about tracking lead testing on immunization records.

“Lead testing is not immunization. And my concern, and a lot of others’, is that this is going to be a slippery slope,” Runestad said.

But Cherry said keeping track of that data and health department reporting requirements can help parents and communities respond faster to crises, like that seen in Flint.

“Flint was kind of the canary in the coalmine on this. And my perspective talking with my constituents is the lessons that we’ve learned in my community, we want to make sure we’re taking those lessons and we’re making changes to try to help everybody else before similar things happen in their community,” Cherry said.

He said he hopes to see other bills to require schools and childcare centers to provide filtered water to also pass the Legislature.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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