OPINION: All Michigan children should get tested for lead at 1 and 2 years of age

Updated 2/8/23 to reflect new legislation.

More than 1,000 Detroit children are identified as lead-poisoned each year. And few Detroit kids are even tested for lead. In 2020, only 18% of Detroit kids were tested, making the true number of children in danger likely much higher. 

That’s why we must pass legislation requiring universal testing.

Last year, two bills that would have done so faltered: House Bill 4678 would have required children to get tested for lead on a regular schedule, and HB 4679 would have required documentation of lead testing to be a part of a minor’s immunization record.

Fortunately, Sen John Cherry (D-Flint) has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 0031 of 2023, requiring universal lead testing for all Michigan children into the state legislature in January. 

While Detroit has far and away the biggest issue with lead-poisoned children, childhood lead poisoning is not just a problem in Detroit. Families living in rural and suburban areas across the state are also affected. In fact, in 2019, over 4,000 Michigan kids were identified as lead poisoned. 

Michigan would join other leading states in requiring universal testing of children for lead. Ten states and Washington D.C have universal childhood lead testing policies. Their lead testing rates are more than double Michigan’s state average, ranging from 56% in New York to 97% in Connecticut to 100% in Iowa. That means many more kids can get help reducing the harm caused by lead exposure.

Senate Bill 0031 calls for testing children when they are most vulnerable to the effects of lead and most highly exposed. Babies and toddlers crawl, play on the ground and explore their world by putting their hands and toys in their mouths. Young children are more likely to ingest lead than older children and adults. They are also vulnerable to harm from lead because their brains and nervous systems are still developing. 

Parents we work with in the Detroit Lead Parent Advocacy Group (DLEAD) regularly share stories about taking their young children to the doctor for regular check-ups and not being offered a lead test. Physician awareness is not universal, and setting a state standard would help immensely. 

Aishani Moore gets tested for lead at a pop-up mobile clinic operated through Wayne Health. Photo by Nina Ignaczak

There is no safe level of exposure. Lead is a poisonous heavy metal that can impact children for a lifetime. Exposure to lead is associated with some of the difficult issues facing Michigan children and schools today: ADHD, decreased IQ, reduced ability to pay attention, decreased academic achievement, and poor adaptivity and problem-solving skills. Children that have been lead poisoned are seven times more likely to drop out of high school. Exposure to lead can also cause other health problems, such as hypertension and kidney damage.

Families with a lead-poisoned child can receive help through public programs in Detroit and across the state. These essential services can prevent harm and protect the child from life-long consequences. But families can’t receive this help if they don’t know their child has been poisoned by lead in the first place.

Lead has not gone away. It’s still in the paint, lead dust and soil of older homes (built before 1978) and still in lead service lines delivering drinking water to some communities. 

It’s time for Michigan to get the lead out of kids, but we need universal testing to find it. We need the state legislature to pass SB 0031.

Take action to urge your lawmaker to protect Michigan children from lead poisoning.


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