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Issues Of The Environment: A Plan To Eradicate Lead Exposure In Michigan


The impacts of exposure to lead are costly to both public health and Michigan's bottom line.  While the Flint Water Crisis brought greater awareness of lead exposure hazards, lead-based paints continue to damage children throughout the state.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair speaks with Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, to discuss new EPA standards for the amount of lead permitted in household paint, dust, and soil.  


  • According to the EPA, “[l]ead-contaminated dust and soil are the major pathways through which most young children are exposed to lead from lead-based paint hazards.”  Michigan is one of the worst stated in the nation for childhood lead exposure, and, in Washtenaw County, the most significant source of lead is residual lead in dust that comes from paint used before 1978.

  • Any level of lead exposure is toxic to the human body.  According to the World Health Organization, “lead can affect children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as reduced attention span and increased antisocial behaviour, and reduced educational attainment.  Lead exposure also causes anaemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity, and toxicity to the reproductive organs.  The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.” 

  • Under pressure from lawsuits by public health advocacy groups, the EPA has been mandated to update the allowable lead standards in 2018.  (The EPA has been mulling over new standards for 6 years, and they had requested another 6.  The request was denied, and they were given 90 days at the end of 2017.)

  • On July 2, 2018, in response to a court order, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule tightening its standards for lead in dust on floors and window sills for housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978.  EPA’s proposal tightens the dust-lead hazard standards from 40 to 10 micrograms per square foot (µg/ft2) on floors and from 250 to 100 µg/ft2 on window sills.

  • Critics of the new standards say this does not go far enough to protect children.  Of particular concern is the failure of the EPA to update the definition of what qualifies as lead-based paint.

  • Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, says that the new standard are a step in the right direction, but parents must still be the ones to create a lead safe environment for their children.  The Ecology Center supports the Five-Year Action Plan with specific steps to create a state virtually free of lead exposure and to keep Michigan children healthy and safe.  The plan includes:

  1. Universal lead testing for Michigan kids aged 1 & 2 to help ensure all infants get the support and services they need.
  2. Shifting the burden of proof to landlords to disclose and fix lead risk before renting to families. A focus on making sure rental units are safe for kids is critical to end lead poisoning in Michigan. Up to 80% of lead poisoned children in Detroit and Flint and up to 60% in Grand Rapids were poisoned in a rental unit, and one toxic home can harm many families.
  3. Requiring a lead test at sale or transfer of property.  Most kids are lead poisoned by their homes, and close to 78% of Michigan housing stock could have lead paint.  By making sure homes are lead safe before children move in, we can stop lead poisoning before it happens.
  4. Fully funding budget requests for lead hazard removal by the MI Department of Health and Human Services and for the Lead Commission to keep children safe from lead exposure.  

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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