Detroit lead poisoning rates higher than Flint

Detroit had Michigan’s highest proportion of children test positive for lead poisoning — 8.8 percent citywide — in 2016, including one ZIP code where 22 percent of kids tested positive.

Data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services show children are being sickened by lead in counties from Manistee to Hillsdale and St. Clair. Just 1.8 percent tested positive for lead poisoning in Genesee County, where hundreds of Flint children were exposed to lead-tainted water after the city switching its water source in 2014.

High blood lead levels can lead to developmental problems, behavioral disorders and learning difficulties, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the Detroit Health Department director, said reducing lead exposure is a top health priority in the city, where poisonings increased from 2015, when 7.5 percent of children tested had high levels of lead in their blood.

“Quite frankly, it’s really because of the old housing stocks that Detroit has,” Khaldun said. “Most kids who are getting exposed to lead … are getting exposed through lead paint in their homes, and so we’ve really been trying to focus on primary prevention.”

The state’s second highest number of lead poisonings was in Jackson County, where 7.6 percent of children tested had high blood lead levels in 2016. Calhoun and St. Joseph counties tied for third highest, with rates of 6.4 percent. Excluding Detroit, Wayne County’s rate was 2.1 percent.

Khaldun said the city already is waging a fierce battle against lead poisoning, with multiple programs aimed at cleaning up houses and educating the public. She noted that the Detroit City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on Oct. 31 that requires inspections of all rental properties.

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