Just the Standard: The Lead Expectation


Lead poisoning in children is an unfortunate and pervasive standard across the United States. Affected children can be found easily within any major city, any state, any region. 3,810 neighborhood areas have recorded childhood lead poisoning rates at least double those found across Flint, Michigan, including our own in Grand Rapids.

Though lead has become familiar, it is still an unacceptable expectation. Lead, and the many consequences connected to it, should not be a standard anywhere. To be fair, standards for lead levels have moved dramatically in the 40 years since lead paint was banned in the United States. Between 1976 and 1980, 77.8% of American children had elevated blood lead levels, compared to current levels of 1.6%.

While that’s a huge improvement, no child should have to be part of that remaining 1.6%. Standards for what is considered an elevated blood level have also moved in a positive direction. Before 2012, a child with a level of 10 or higher was considered to be a level of concern, now the CDC considers a level of 5 to be that standard.

However, enforcement of the new standard at the state and local levels may not be following that federal protocol shift. In Healthy Homes’ recent visit to Lead Education Day in Lansing, several of the state representatives referenced the lead level of 10 in conversation, demonstrating that 10 may still be the standard in many conversations about lead. Even a standard of 5, whether enforced or not, is considered unsafe. Many (including the CDC) argue that there is no safe lead level for children, but that standard remains where it is, and is set to be reviewed every four years. No changes were made in 2016.

These 1.6% of kids meet many other standards-- based on race, economic status, and neighborhood that place them being “at-risk” for lead poisoning. It’s a problem when the assumption for “at-risk” kids is that they will likely be poisoned by their own home.


Should a standard for getting poisoned exist?

Unfortunately, it’s easier to meet the standards of become lead poisoned than it is to find testing and help. The standards for which children are tested, when they are tested, and how they are tested can vary based on local laws. In Kent County, children who receive Medicaid benefits or are enrolled in a WIC program are required to be tested at least once by the age of 3. However, some Medicaid children may fall through the cracks depending on their age if they are only tested once. Medicaid and WIC testing doesn't include the much higher number of children in the county without this coverage. The responsibility then falls unto either the child's physician or their parents, and no standard exists for testing for them. 

Lead poisoning isn't something we should just expect to show up and then deal with. Proactive steps need to happen to change the status quo.

Homes need to be tested first, not the kids. Let's hold the community to a higher standard.