Lead poisoning and the City of Detroit

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) committed to the goal of eliminating blood lead levels of greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (10 µg/dl) by 2020 and recommends public health actions at levels above 5µg/dl (see the CDC Lead Home Page). While lead poisoning has few physical symptoms, it can result in learning and behavioral disabilities. Children between the ages of six months and 3 years are at the greatest risk because they have a high degree of exposure to lead in household dust due to normal hand-to-mouth activity. Their developing nervous system is at heightened vulnerability to lead toxicity.

This chart shows the number of children (under 6 years old) newly identified with blood lead levels at or above 10 µg/dl over the past 14 years. This chart demonstrates a mostly steady decline in lead poisoning cases over the past 14 years. The small spike in 2001 and 2002 can be attributed to a new Medicaid policy enacted that required testing of blood lead levels among children considered to be at a high risk for lead poisoning. In 1998 9.7 percent (4,846 children) of children under the age of 6 in Detroit had blood lead levels at or above 10 µg/dl; in 2001 that decreased to 5.5 percent (3,236). High risks of lead poisoning can be typically be attributed to areas with lower income housing and homes that were built before 1978. Medicaid considers all children living in the City of Detroit to be at high risk for lead poisoning.

This map shows the locations of lead poisoning cases for children under 6 that were identified in Detroit it 2011. The green dots represent residences of children with blood lead levels between 10 to 19 µg/dL and the red dots are more severe  lead poisoning cases (20 to 99 µg/dL). Lead poisoning cases were recorded throughout most of Detroit, though there was a concentration in the center of the city (older housing) and on its East side.

The above map shows the number of lead poisoning incidences per address/home in the City of Detroit. The yellow dots show that there are 4,610 homes in the city with two occurrences per home; these are the most frequent. However, the blue dots, which show  three to five or six to nine occurrences per home, cover more of the map because of the higher number of people affected. There was one home in the southwest portion of the city that had 17 lead poisoning cases, according to the map.

The above chart shows the number of Michigan children under the age of 6 whose blood lead levels were tested over the past 14 years. The steady increase in the number of children tested can be at least partially attributed to Medicaid requirements.  The total number of children tested increased from 73,643 in 1998 to 151,867 in 2011. Most of this increase was due to children receiving Medicaid: in 1998, approximately 57 percent of the children tested were receiving Medicaid; in 2011, 76 percent were.

This chart shows the percentage of Michigan children under 6, of those who were tested, who had elevated blood lead levels over the past 14 years. As depicted in the orange line, nearly 10 percent of children tested had blood lead levels of at least 10 µg/dL in 1998. In 2011, less than 1 percent of children tested had levels of at least 10 µg/dL. The middle line (brown) represents more severe cases (at least 15 µg/dL) and the red line represents the most severe (at least 20 µg/dL). The decline in lead poisoning cases among all three categories can be attributed, directly and indirectly, to increases in testing among high risk children, increases in vacancy among the oldest, most dangerous and hazardous housing stock, and targeted lead poisoning prevention and case management.

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