Lead Action Team

The Threat

Hidden at Home

Since the 1970s, we’ve known that exposure to lead in our environment is a serious health hazard. Lead exposure is particularly dangerous for young children, and there are no safe levels.

While every child deserves a safe place to live, some of our community’s children are at greatest risk in their own homes where lead-based paint, contaminated soil or other sources bring the danger to their doorstep.

If you suspect your child was exposed to lead or you’re looking for information about identifying lead in your home, the following websites can help

Historically, the biggest risk for Kent County’s children has been lead-contaminated dust from paint found in homes built before 1978. When the old paint chips, flakes or peels, lead-contaminated dust can get on hands, toys, clothes, furniture and other items around the house. Breathing in or swallowing lead-contaminated dust can cause many health problems.

Children can be screened for lead exposure by a healthcare professional or at the Kent County Health Department. The screening involves a simple procedure that tests for elevated blood lead, or EBL.

Community Response

Coming Together for the Common Good

One child exposed to lead is one child too many

That’s why Kent County, the City of Grand Rapids, other local cities and townships and community groups such as the Healthy Homes Coalition have partnered for many years to tackle this complex problem.

Since its launch in 2004, “Get the Lead Out” – a community coalition led by the City of Grand Rapids – has made 1,724 housing units in Grand Rapids lead-safe. Nearly 1,800 residents, property owners and contractors have been educated about lead-safe cleaning practices or lead-safe work practices. And more than 150 people have been trained as lead abatement professionals.

Meanwhile the Kent County Health Department has been testing, counseling, and helping hundreds of families overcome the challenges of lead poisoning every year.

The Kent County Lead Task Force issued a lead action plan in 2018, and the City of Grand Rapids’ Lead Free Kids GR delivered a set of recommendations in February 2020 aimed at ending lead-based paint hazards in city housing.

Kent County and the City of Grand Rapids also launched a campaign in 2019 called “Don’t Play Around With Lead”. The campaign provides resources, education and guidance to protect families from the dangers of lead.

Lead Data

Community Concern

The Kent County Health Department tracks EBL rates in our community, and they show that these community partnerships are working. From 2010 to 2018, Kent County and the City of Grand Rapids saw a significant decrease in the number of children identified with elevated blood lead levels (FIGURE 1).

But we haven’t eliminated the threat from lead, and, until we do, health concerns – and our response – persist.

Figure 1 - Proportion of Children < 6 Years Old with Elevated Lead Blood Levels

Creation of Lead Action Team

Taking it to the Finish Line

That’s why the Kent County Lead Action Team (LAT) was created in February 2020. This group will take on the recommendations from previous partnerships and work to end lead exposure in Kent County.

The Chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, Mandy Bolter, and the Mayor of the City of Grand Rapids, Rosalynn Bliss, are co-sponsoring the LAT. Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer, Dr. Adam London, is facilitating the group. The steering committee and workgroups are made up of leaders and experts from throughout the community.

How will we measure our success? By meeting the following goals:

  • Reduce elevated blood lead level rates throughout the county.
  • Increase case management of lead poisoned children to ensure that their blood lead levels fall below action levels within six months.
  • Implement environmental risk reduction, including communication, inspection, counseling, mitigation, and/or abatement at all addresses which have been prioritized due to multiple cases of elevated blood lead, blood lead levels in excess of 10 micrograms/deciliter, or other criteria established by the Lead Action Team.
  • Provide social supports, such as short-term housing, for the people affected by lead to ensure that they have the resources needed to successfully handle their lead crisis.

Through quarterly reports on this web page, we invite the residents of Kent County to hold us accountable.

Data Insights

Year-over-Year Comparison

From 2010 to 2018, the percent of Elevated Blood Lead (EBL) year to year in Michigan, Kent County, Grand Rapids, and 49507 continued to decrease, excluding 2015 and 2016. Additionally, the 49507-zip code continues to have the highest percent of EBL’s in Kent County (FIGURE 2).

Figure 2 - Proportion of Children < 6 Years Old with Elevated Lead Blood Levels, (EBLLs) 2010 - 2018

Community Outreach

Environmental Health Investigations

Since 2018, the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) has contacted a total of 82 addresses to request a lead investigation (FIGURE 3) – close to 50% responded to the contact. Of those, 12 homes have been cleared for lead hazard, 2 homes are in process of remediation/abatement pending clear status, 14 homes have been inspected and lead abatement options have been presented, 7 homes have been identified as eligible or enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) with inspection and remediation scheduled.

Figure 3 - Lead Investigation Status 2018 - Current

High-Risk Homes

In 2019, KCHD identified 427 high-risk addresses due to known instances of multiple elevated blood lead levels. In response, KCHD hired and trained two lead sanitarians. As of December 2019, KCHD initiated an investigation on 10% of the identified high-risk addresses (FIGURE 4). The LAT goals include adding and training more lead abatement contractors, workers and supervisors to address the need in Kent County.

Figure 4 - Percentage of High Risk Homes Investigated

Case Management

The Kent County Health Department recognizes that houses with lead paint pose a risk to our youngest residents. That’s why the department focuses on testing children by using a capillary blood test in our WIC program. Additionally, the medical community tests children on Medicaid.

Through concurrent and consistent programming, we have addressed lead issues in a number of homes in Kent County and have seen a consistent reduction in the number of children negatively impacted by lead.

Still, efforts need to be expanded, staff capacity increased, and partnerships strengthened if the ultimate goal of reducing – and eventually ending – lead exposure among our youngest residents is to be achieved.

We know that children with EBL and their families have better outcomes when they’re enrolled in case management services. However, of the 208 EBL cases confirmed by venous testing in 2018, only 65— or 31% – entered case management through resource referral. Of the 65 in case management, 41 decreased ELB below 4.5 µg/dl (FIGURE 5).

Figure 5 - Impact of Case Management on Lowering EBLs
The data is clear. We need to prevent lead poisoning, identify all cases, and get more of the affected children and families into the case management program.

Today, approximately 17,334 one to two-year-old children live in Kent County. As we move forward, our goals are to:

  1. Screen more children ages one and two,
  2. Increase enrollment in case management, and
  3. Connect more families with the resources they need to decrease blood lead levels.
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