Bills requiring universal lead testing for Michigan children passes out of House committee; fall vote expected

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The bills come on top of new guidance lowering the threshold for what’s considered an elevated blood lead level in the state

Two bills that would change lead testing requirements for children have passed out of the state House Health Policy Committee and will likely come up for a vote during the fall legislative session. 

House Bill 4679 would add space for lead screening on immunization certificates for children, and House Bill 4678 would add a new section to the lead abatement chapter of the Public Health Code that requires physicians to screen all children for lead poisoning at certain ages. Under current Michigan rules, only Medicaid-enrolled children are required to receive lead testing.

HB 4678 and House Bill HB 4679 were sponsored by Democrats Rep. John Cherry and Rep. Helena Scott, respectively. The bills are among a larger bipartisan package of bills introduced last year to address a range of issues related to childhood lead exposure in Michigan.

“I’m very happy that it reported out of committee,” Cherry said. “It’s the first step in the process and I think that there were some good discussions that occurred.”

“We made a few changes to the bill following feedback from the pediatricians and committee members.”

Cherry said the original wording allowed a parent to opt out of the test for religious reasons, but the language has broadened following feedback that it was too narrow.

Another change makes sure the word “testing” is used instead of “screening” to erase any confusion about how kids get tested – via a blood test as opposed to a questionnaire screening, Cherry said.

The bill requires the testing to take place early when kids are at the highest risk: Once between the ages of 9 and 12 months, and again between the ages of 2 and 3. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. Children who are exposed to lead may have reduced IQ and problems with attention, learning, behavior, hearing, and speech that can impact them throughout their lives.

Additional screenings would be required at age 4 if kids have known risk factors, such as living in a home built before 1978. All Michigan homes built before then are assumed to have lead paint in them. Cherry said some doctors were concerned that the original version of the bill put the burden of knowing a child’s risk factors on them. The new language requires the child’s guardian to provide that information.

During the first hearing, Cherry said the Michigan Pediatric Association had raised a card of opposition to the bills but has now withdrawn them to have “no position” following the changes. Cherry, who represents the 49th House District, said he expects the bills to hit the floor in the fall session.

“We’ve got some work from now until then to secure support,” he said.

The bills come on top of a change in Michigan’s blood lead reference value for what’s considered an elevated blood lead level in children. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services adopted a new rule for the value earlier this year, lowering it from five micrograms per deciliter to 3.5 per deciliter to align with a standard set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Children with values above the threshold are eligible for state-provided public health services to help them and their families lower their blood lead levels.  Angela Medina, a public health consultant for MDHHS, expects the new standard to result in between 1200 and 4000 additional Michigan children identified as having elevated blood lead levels and becoming eligible for services per year. MDHHS is anticipating the expanded need for additional resources for non-Medicaid children. 

“We’re making funding available for non-Medicaid nurse case management visits statewide,” Medina told Planet Detroit. “And we’re also going to be funding community health workers to assist nurses with case management.”

Ellen Vial, the engagement coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Council, told Planet Detroit that with proper measures in place, childhood lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. The MEC leads the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, a group of professionals working toward the goal of erasing lead poisoning in the state.

“It’s our No. 1 policy priority this year,” said Vial. She said the universal testing laws would help progress that goal in a big way.

“This would be pretty monumental, actually,” Vial said. “Right now, in the state of Michigan, the only children who get tested for lead are kids who are on Medicaid.”

She said that the testing is important because the earlier the problem is identified, the more time guardians have to prevent further lead exposure. Getting rid of the lead is one such measure.

The Mi Lead Safe program offers free lead testing and up to $10,000 in abatement work for residents at a certain income level, Vial said. And nonprofit Michigan Saves created a program this year to help residents who don’t qualify for the Mi Lead Safe program. According to its website, homeowners can receive loans from $1,000 to $50,000, with fixed interest rates from 3.99 to 7.00 percent APR and terms of up to 15 years.

But of course, it all starts with first identifying lead exposure in children, and the bills sponsored by Cherry and Scott would help.

“This would be a really, really great step for identifying children who are exposed to lead early on,” Vial said. “We would love to see this get passed and go to the governor’s desk.”

Planet Detroit’s Solving Lead & Asthma in Detroit series is underwritten, in part, by the Erb Family Foundation.


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