Hundreds of Kent County children are needlessly poisoned by lead every year. To help children thrive and succeed in life, we need to ensure that the homes where they live are free from lead hazards. Lead poisoning is 100% preventable. If homes are made lead safe, children will be protected.
What is Lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been added to various products, most notably lead-based paint.
When ingested, lead travels through the blood stream to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and other organs. Lead can then be stored in bones, leading to long-term exposure.
Since 1978, Federal and State regulations have banned the sale of lead-based paint. However, lead is still found in the majority of older homes and in the soil around them.
An estimated 90% of all childhood lead poisoning cases in Kent County are the result of deteriorating lead-based paint and lead dust found in the home. This dangerous dust can be found in any home built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned. More than 85% of the housing stock in the City of Grand Rapids, and many others throughout Kent County, were built before 1978.
Who is at Risk?
Infants and toddlers have the highest risk of being lead poisoned, especially when they begin to crawl and become mobile. All children living in older homes or high-risk communities should be tested at their one and two-year well child visits.
There are no reliable symptoms of lead poisoning. Waiting for symptoms is dangerous, as visible symptoms come too late —after long-lasting damage to the child. Instead of relying on symptoms, parents should get a blood test for their child at one and two years of age as recommended.
Lead poisoning in children causes life-long brain damage. Even small amounts of lead can have negative effects on children:
- Brain damage
- Poor physical growth and development
- Social problems
- Behavioral problems
- Problems in school, learning disabilities
Lead poisoning is 100% preventable! Making homes lead-safe prevents children from being poisoned.
To learn more about making homes lead-safe, contact the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan at (616) 241-3300.
A Field Guide for Painting, Home Maintenance and Renovation Work. Great guide for DIY home renovation.
A Michigan Department of Community Health program that offers inspections and repairs for lead.
What to look for when shopping for a new apartment or rental home.
A checklist to make sure your house is lead-safe.
Un guía para una limpieza segura con plomo que ayuda a reducir los niveles de polvo de plomo en el hogar.
A guide to lead-safe cleaning that helps reduce lead dust levels in the home.
Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units on how to respond to children whose blood lead test results are higher than 5.0 micrograms per deciliter.
Guidance from the Michigan Department of Community Health about testing children for lead poisoning.
A list of State of Michigan Certified Lead Inspectors and Risk Assessors in the (616) area code as of 9/13/2018.
Lead in Water
In west Michigan, lead in drinking water is rarely identified as the primary route of exposure for children with elevated blood lead levels. While lead exposure through drinking water is possible, EPA-mandated testing results for west Michigan communities consistently report that the lead content in municipal water supplies is below EPA guidelines. In Grand Rapids, the most recent testing results available (2018) report lead levels as safe in Grand Rapids’ water.
While this is good news, water testing can only provide lead content at one moment in time. Water testing cannot guarantee that your drinking water is safe 100% of the time. In order to assure safe drinking water, use an NSF-approved water filter or refer to this Filter Guide by the Environmental Working Group.
Potential Hazards in Drinking Water
Increased Risk with Partial Lead Service Line Replacement
Recognizing that there have been no major changes to local water programs in west Michigan, the Healthy Homes Coalition’s primary concerns with lead in water arise when there is construction activity involving the water system. Most notably, the partial replacement of lead service lines (the line between the street and the home) have proven problematic.
Partial lead service line (LSL) replacements have been conducted in municipalities across the nation and the impact upon lead-reduction in residential tap water has been varied. While the precaution has not been adequately studied because the sample size available to CDC was of insufficient size, “preliminary results suggest that when lead service lines are partially replaced, that is the public portion of the line from the main to the meter is replaced, children are more likely to have blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 μg/dL, compared to children living in housing with either undisturbed lead service lines or service lines that are not made of lead” [source: CDC letter to local lead program managers]
Due to a lack of testing, it is unclear if this type of work in Grand Rapids and other west Michigan communities results in elevated lead content in the water. The truth is, we simply do not know. Because of this lack of information, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends precaution. It is our desire to see 100% of those who own properties being directly affected by service line replacement achieve the maximum benefit of complete service line replacement and the protection of interim filtration until water samples meet clearance.
Frequently, partial LSL replacement has resulted in a short-term increase of lead content in residential water. The impact on effectiveness of partial LSL replacement is multi-factorial. “Both full LSL replacement and partial LSL replacement generally result in elevated lead levels for a variable period of time after replacement. The limited evidence available suggests that the duration and magnitude of the elevations may be greater with partial LSL replacement than full LSL (replacement) [source: EPA Science Advisory Board]. As a result, many communities and organizations, including the CDC and EPA, have made the recommendation that the precautionary principle be followed. The only documented way to achieve significant precaution is through full LSL replacement.
If the utility is replacing the water main in your street or their portion of a lead service line, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends the following precautions:
- Consider full replacement of the service line. Often there can be a cost savings to the homeowner if they replace the private portion of a lead service line in conjunction with local utility work. Homeowners in Grand Rapids in need of a loan to replace LSL should call 311 to inquire about the ten-Pay plan.
- Flush your water service line. To remove potential sources of particulate lead, remove faucet aerators from all cold water taps and open all taps, including those without aerators. Let the water run for 30 minutes. Back flush and clean out your aerator before reinstalling. The City will provide homeowners who flush their water system with a one-time credit on their next water bill upon request. For more information, see this important health notice.
- Clean out faucet aerators regularly. Particulate matter containing lead can get caught in faucet aerators and contribute to increased lead in drinking water. While this is especially important following water service line replacement, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends cleaning out aerators each month regardless of service line status.
- Use NSF approved water filtration [more info on NSF-approved filters for lead] for two years following partial or full service line replacement or until your water tests at a level with which you are comfortable. While the EPA sets an allowable limit of 15 parts per billion for municipal water testing, the EPA “has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels” [source: EPA]. According to a CDC report, “Residents of properties where plumbing work has been done, including partial replacement of LSL, should take precautions such as using bottled or filtered water until they are sure that the water lead levels are below the EPA action level of 15 ppb” [source: CDC].
- Consider conducting private water testing to assure that your drinking water is safe.
- Special precaution should be taken by parents who are formula feeding children since such a significant portion of their diet depends upon the quality of the water source and because infants are undergoing rapid neurological development that can be negatively impacted by lead exposure.
Are you wondering if your service line contains lead? The City of Grand Rapids has an informative map that shows if the public and/or private side of the lead service line contains lead for customers receiving water from the Grand Rapids Water System.
Plumbing Components with Lead Content
According to the EPA, the most common problem with lead in plumbing components is “with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water” [source: EPA].
The EPA says, “Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has reduced the maximum allowable lead content — that is, content that is considered “lead-free” — to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures and 0.2 percent for solder and flux” [source: EPA]. This reduction in allowable lead content for plumbing products (pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures) only recently took effect in January of 2014. Previously, plumbing products with up to 8 percent lead were considered “lead-free”.
Many local water service providers in Michigan add phosphate to the water, which results in such components being covered over time with a protective coating.
The Healthy Homes Coalition recommends replacement of lead-containing plumbing components at the end of their service life with lead-free products or sooner if water testing shows elevated lead content in household water.
More information on lead in plumbing components can be found at these helpful websites:
How to Get Water Tested
The Kent County Health Department began offering water testing for lead in June 2016. Sample collection kits are available at no charge at the Kent County Health Department, Environmental Health Division, 700 Fuller Avenue NE in Grand Rapids. The cost to get your water analyzed for lead is $18 per sample. More information is available on the Health Department’s Laboratory website under “drinking water testing.”
The State of Michigan also offers water testing for lead. The cost is also $18. For a fact sheet complete with contact information, click here.
If you have a lead service line, the Healthy Homes Coalition recommends a second sample that captures water that has been sitting in your service line. Click here for a sample protocol on how to collect both a “first draw” and a second sample that collects water that has been sitting in your home’s service line.
Please note that water testing can only provide lead content at one moment in time. Water testing cannot guarantee that your drinking water is safe 100% of the time. In order to assure safe drinking water, use an NSF-approved water filter. These filters can be found for less than $30 (does not include cost of replacement filters).
A simple handout from the Kent County Health Department alerting to risks of lead in water and what you can do. Includes no and low cost tips.
A flier from the Healthy Homes Coalition about how you can save money on lead service line replacement.
Grand Rapids Water System lead level at all time low.
Grand Rapids Water System provides answers to consumer questions.
A report from the City of Grand Rapids on lead in water as required by the federal Lead and Copper Rule.
Information from the Michgan Department of Environmental Quality about how to get your water tested.
Information from the Kent County Health Department about how to get your water tested.
FAQs for SL replacement in a construction zone.