What's the Deal with Lead Poisoning in the 49507 Zip Code?


Late last week, the Michigan Department of Community Health publicly released childhood lead poisoning data for 2013. At the Healthy Homes Coalition, we were shocked to see that the 49507 zip code in Grand Rapids topped the list for the number of children lead-poisoned in any one zip code in the state of Michigan. In this zip code, more than 150 children 0-5 years reported a blood lead level ≥5.0 ug/dL, the Center for Disease Control's current reference level. What does this mean for Grand Rapids and the impact of the Get the Lead Out! program?

First off, it means we have more work to do. No one wants to be a chart topper with data like that. But to be fair, we also need to dig deeper to see if our past efforts have made an impact. 

Upon receiving the 2013 data, Healthy Homes Coalition staff quickly went back and reviewed historical data, wondering if this could be an anomaly.  2005 is the earliest year for which data was readily available at this level (≥5.0ug/dL). In that year, 504 children in the 49507 zip code had blood lead levels ≥5.0. In 2013, that number had dropped to 157. That’s a decrease of nearly 70% lead-poisoned kids in eight years.

Put another way, 347 fewer kids were lead poisoned in 2013, and fewer in each of the years in between.

The conclusion? Nearly 350 fewer children lead poisoned each year is a huge impact, and one that is fully worth the money and time invested. Our efforts and the Get the Lead Out! project are making a significant and positive impact. 

When the 49507 zip code is compared to the rest of the state based on the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels, rather than numbers of kids, 49507 drops from first to 11th place. Why is that?

In part, 49507 has more children overall than many other high-risk zip codes. Lead-poisoned kids in 49507 are the unintended victims of positive reinvestment in our neighborhoods. As more and more families choose to move into the , especially into older neighborhoods where lead-based paint has historically been used, we continued to be challenged to prevent lead poisoning. The low vacancy rates in 49507 rentals and the quick turn over of home sales in that zip code are something to be proud of, but we cannot lose sight of the need to be vigilant about lead.

There is another discouraging fact in the 2013 data. In 49507, only 31.7% of kids 0-5 years of age were tested for lead. That’s far better than the state average of 20.5%, but most zip codes with high levels of lead-poisoned children are testing more than 40% of their kids. We simply must ensure that more of our children are tested.

So, what’s the deal with 49507? Huge progress has been made as hundreds, probably thousands, of cases of lead poisoning have been adverted the past eight years. That’s an honest answer. But an honest look at the data also says there is more work to be done, and we're prepared to do it.