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MEC: Michigan Legislature has opportunity to help eradicate childhood lead poisoning

CDC lowers blood/lead threshold
May 21, 2012
The Michigan Environmental Council today applauded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision to cut in half the reference value for lead in children’s blood. There is no safe level of lead, and the CDC action is a step in the right direction.

The CDC decision lowers the threshold from 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) to 5. Fetuses and children under 6 years old are particularly susceptible to lifelong disabilities from lead exposure because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.

State funding for lead prevention and abatement is currently under discussion in the State Legislature. MEC and health advocates with the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing said the new reference value should highlight the pressing need to eradicate lead poisoning of Michigan children.

“Michigan lawmakers from both parties recognize that sick children are not a partisan issue, and additional funding for lead poisoning prevention is on the table now in budget discussions,” said Tina Reynolds, health policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council. “This new reference level is yet another reason for additional dollars to be added and for that funding to be robust.”

Michigan had more than 950 children tested above the old reference level (10 mcg/dL) in 2011 – the 5th most of any state. More than 7,500 tested above the new reference level (5 mcg/dL), and thousands more untested children have levels above that threshold.

Nationally, the change will increase the number of children above the threshold from less than 100,000 to an estimated 450,000.

Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage in children, including reduced cognitive ability, neurological damage, endocrine system disruption, growth rate reduction, aggressive behavior, lowered IQ and hearing impairment. A primary route of lead ingestion is in paint used before 1978, often found in older homes or uncovered during renovation of those homes.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. More than 800 Michigan families are waiting for help to make their homes lead safe now. But cuts to state and federal programs mean that even poor families who contribute part of the cost for lead abatement are often unable to get financial help to make their homes safe.

Reynolds said that state funding is essential to leverage federal matching dollars for lead management and abatement. No state general funds are currently allocated for making homes lead safe, and federal money to identify lead poisoned children will dry up in August.

But instead of saving money, past budget cuts are costing Michiganders. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that every dollar spent on controlling lead hazards returns between $17 and $221 in avoided health care, lifetime earnings, tax revenue, reduced criminal behavior and other benefits.

The Michigan Environmental Council is part of the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing (www.mileadsafehomes.org), working to defeat childhood lead poisoning.

“There are a lot of priorities competing for scarce state dollars,” said Reynolds. “But because lead poisoning is entirely preventable, each dollar spent is one step closer to eliminating this plague permanently. We can do it, and while we thank Legislative champions we call on the rest of the Legislature to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention in the 2013 budget. Funding decisions are being made now, and protecting our kids from lead poisoning should be a priority.”
Tina Reynolds, 517-348-9991
Hugh McDiarmid Jr., 248-660-4300
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