How Detroit is Tackling Rental Code Enforcement, Lead Remediation

The City of Detroit recognizes that lead poisoning prevention is multi-faceted, which is why an Interagency Lead Poisoning Prevention Task Force was created earlier this year, the same time the codes rental properties in the City were tightened. The task force will eventually align future rental code enforcement target ZIP codes with the zip codes where there is a high prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in children. Currently though, the rental code compliance program overseen by the Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) is focusing zip codes that do not have among the highest percentage of children 6 years of age and younger with lead poisoning.

The zip codes BSEED is currently enforcing compliance on are: 48215, 48224, 48223, 48219, 48209 and 48210. These six zip codes are the first priorities of the City’s new, stricter rental code ordinance that seeks to ensure all rental properties are properly registered, up to code and have obtained a certificate of compliance. One aspect of the new ordinance is that all rental properties, despite the length of their certificate of occupation, must have annual lead hazard inspections. According to the ordinance, the annual assessment can be waived only if the property owner has taken more long term or permanent measures to abate the lead.

 

While this ordinance does make lead assessments and abatements a priority for all rental properties, the zip codes identified to have among the highest percentage of children 6 years of age and younger are not included on the initial and current compliance schedule, which is available here (link to BSEED). According to the City of Detroit, the 48210 zip code is to be launched into the new compliance program on Aug. 1, 2018 and is scheduled to have all rental properties in compliance with the new ordinance by Feb 1, 2019. This is certainly a step in the right direction, however, the zip codes with among highest percentage of children with lead poisoning have yet to be placed on the compliance list. The City of Detroit does state though that all rental properties in the City must be in compliance with the new ordinance by the end of 2020.

 

The zip codes where recent data shows there is the highest prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in Detroit’s children are: 48202, 48204, 48206, 48213 and 48214. According to the City of Detroit Health Department, these zip codes will be included in the new rental property compliance program, but all also be part of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program, which is being spearheaded by the Interagency Lead Poisoning Prevention Task Force. As part of this pilot program, there will be door-to-door outreach in the identified zip codes. This outreach will provide occupants, particularly those with children or who are pregnant, with information on how to identify potential lead hazards and protect themselves from the risks. Lead testing will also be provided through this program.

As the information above shows, the City of Detroit has taken steps through both rental code enforcement and direct outreach facilitated through the Health Department. However, direct coordination between the initial enforcement phase of the new rental property compliance ordinance and the Interagency Lead Poisoning Prevention Task Force has yet to fully materialize. The map below highlights just this. The zip codes in red are the ones the City has identified as having the prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in children. The zip codes in blue are the ones that have been identified for the most immediate rounds of registration and compliance for the new rental code.

The information provided in the map below is from the City of Detroit’s website.

Detroit has Highest Percentage of Kids Tested for Lead Poisoning

In 2015 about 37 percent of children under the age of 6 in the city of Detroit were tested for an elevated blood lead level, according to data provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This was the highest percentage of children tested in the state; Livingston County had the lowest percentage of children under the age of 6 tested at 8.91 percent.

As shown in an earlier post, we also saw that in 2015 Detroit had the highest percentage of children under the age of 6 with blood lead levels elevated above 5 ug/dL at 7.5 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Similarly, Livingston County had among the lowest percentage of its child population under the age of 6 tested for elevated blood lead levels while also having less than 2 percent of its child population test positive for elevated blood lead levels.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, all children enrolled in Medicaid are considered to be at risk for lead poisoning. Michigan Medicaid Policy requires all children between the ages of 12 and 24 months ages be tested for elevated blood lead levels at least once. Additionally, a child between the ages of 36 and 72 months must be tested for blood lead levels if they have not been tested before. The 2015 data available for the number of children (ages 0-18) on Medicaid was not available for this post. However, we do know a child in Michigan is automatically referred to the state’s Medicaid program if their family’s income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

It is particularly important children at risk of lead poisoning be tested because the substance is absorbed more into a child’s body than an adults. Additionally, a child’s brain and nervous system is more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths.

Michigan Lead Testing

Genesee County is where the city of Flint is located and in 2015 between 20 and 25 percent of Genesee County’s child population under the age of 6 was tested for elevated blood lead levels; more than 75 children under the age of 6 in just three zip codes within the city limits of Flint tested positive for elevated blood lead levels in 2015.

In response to the Flint Water Crisis, the State of Michigan has since “strongly recommended” that all children who live in the city, live in a home using Flint water or attend school or a childcare center in the city be tested for elevated blood lead levels. In addition, the state has required all children insured by Medicaid and/or enrolled in WIC be tested. These recommendations will certainly increase the percentage of children tested for elevated blood lead levels in Genesee County for the year of 2016.

Also, in a recent post we discussed how the city of Grand Rapids had one select zip code with 188 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels; in total there were no more than 523 children under the age of 6 in all of Grand Rapids with elevated blood lead levels. While the data on the percentage of children under the age of 6 tested for elevated blood lead levels in Grand Rapids in 2015 wasn’t readily available we do know that between 17 and 19.99 percent of children under the age of 6 in Kent County were tested for elevated blood lead levels.

The city of Adrian was another municipality discussed in a previous post because of the number of children with elevated blood lead levels. In 2015 there were 67 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels in Adrian, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This number of children with elevated blood lead levels in Adrian contributed to the 10 percent of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels in Lenawee County. Subsequently, between 13.5 and 16.99 percent of children under the age of 6 were tested for elevated blood lead levels in 2015.

Although the areas mentioned above have been noted as having a high percentage of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels, none of the counties in which they are located in had more than 25 percent of children under the age of 6 tested for elevated blood lead levels. The counties in Michigan that did have more than 25 percent of its child population under the age of 6 tested for elevated blood lead levels were:

  • Jackson County
  • St. Clair County
  • Shiawasee County
  • Hillsdale County
  • St. Joseph County
  • Benzie County
  • Baraga County

The map above shows that elevated blood lead testing throughout the state of Michigan is inconsistent and 15 counties throughout the state had less than 13.5 percent of its child population under the age of 6 tested for elevated blood lead levels. We also know that children living in poverty have a higher risk of being poisoned by lead, but as the map shows, not all children under the age of 6 are being tested for lead poisoning, and of those not being tested there is certainly a portion of at risk children being excluded.

 

Lenawee County has highest percentage of children with elevated lead levels

The data discussed in this post is preliminary data on the lead poisoning of Michigan’s children in 2015 and was supplied by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) at the county and zip code level, as well as data for the city of Detroit. At the county level, MDHHS also provided an approximate percentage of children who had blood lead levels at 5 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter of blood) and above. Population data was only available by Zip Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA) (which are somewhat inconsistent with zip codes), preventing the calculation of percentage of children affected for the zip code data.

At 10 percent, Lenawee County had the highest percentage of its population under 6, county-wide, with an elevated blood lead level at 5 ug/dL, according to preliminary 2015 data supplied by MDHHS. The city of Adrian is located in rural Lenawee County and within the boundary zip code of 49221. There were 67 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL in that zip code, according to data supplied by MDHHS.

The city of Detroit had 7.5 percent of its population of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL . However, Wayne County (excluding Detroit) had less than 2 percent of its population of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. All seven counties in Southeastern Michigan had less than 2 percent of its population of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels. At the more local level though, the second map below shows that zip codes in the Port Huron area had between 55-99 children under the age of 6 with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. Portions of southern Oakland and Macomb counties, along with Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area in Washtenaw County, had zip codes with no more than 14 children under the age of 6 with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. In Oakland County, the areas around Pontiac and Southfield, along with the area around the Detroit-Metro Airport in Wayne County had slightly higher numbers of children under the age of 6 with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL; these numbers maxed out at 29, per zip code.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 5 ug/dL is used a reference level by experts “to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels.” The CDC has recommended that public health actions be initiated in children under age 6 with blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL. Babies and young children can be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths.

Michigan Lead Data_County

Michigan Lead Data_Zip

When viewing the elevated blood lead levels in Lenawee County overall and at the more local level of zip codes, we see that the number of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels in Adrian contributed to the county as a whole having among the highest percentage of elevated lead levels. In 2015, according to MDHHS data, the zip code containing the city of Adrian had 67 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels.

Aside from Adrian, Detroit and the Port Huron area, the central portions of Muskegon County and Grand Rapids had substantial numbers of children with elevated blood lead levels in certain zip codes.

Adrian Lead Data

There were five zip codes in the city of Detroit in 2015 with more than 100 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. These zip codes were: 48238, 48204, 48210, 48209 and 48212. Four of these zip codes are aligned in a row on the west side of Detroit, including parts of neighborhoods such as Southwest Detroit. In total, 1,618 children under the age of 6 were reported to have elevated blood lead levels in Detroit in 2015.

Detroit Lead Data

In the southwestern portion of Grand Rapids the zip code of 49507 had 188 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. In total, the city had no more than 523 children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels. The only other city with areas with numbers as high or greater was the city of Detroit, according to data supplied by MDHHS.

Grand Rapids Lead

The city of Flint is important when discussing elevated blood lead levels across the state of Michigan. Due to the water crisis that has been plaguing the city, children’s lead levels have gained national attention. The effect on children of lead in Flint’s water is unlikely to be correctly indicated by the 2015 numbers from MDHHS, first, because many children had not been tested, and second, because lead may not be found in their blood a certain amount of time after they quit drinking water containing lead. This is not to say the lead did not impact the children, but it may have been excreted or taken up into organs or bones. Many thousands of children may have been exposed to lead from the water, though the exact number is still unknown.

The 2015 data supplied by MDHHS shows that the highest number of children poisoned in Flint were in zip code 48503, which had 36 children under 6 with lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL. Portions of the zip codes of 48504, 48505, 48506 and 48507 are also within Flint’s city limits; these zip codes had 28, 15, 18, and 13 cases in 2015, respectively.

Flint Lead

While elevated blood lead levels in children in the city of Flint are being linked to lead found in the drinking water, as caused by the erosion of the city’s pipes, most lead poisoning in Michigan is related to lead in paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning, and is almost exclusively the source of lead poisoning in the Detroit area, as discussed in a previous Drawing Detroit post.

Lead paint often deteriorates as housing ages, shedding dust and flakes, which becomes available to children to ingest. So the age of housing is a proxy for the risk of lead poisoning. The first map below shows that there are more than 50 counties across the state where 60 percent or more of the housing stock-either owner or renter occupied-was built prior to 1980. About 93 percent of all houses in Detroit and Flint were built before 1980, according to Census data. For the city of Grand Rapids 81.2 percent of the housing stock was built prior to 1980, and for the city of Adrian that percentage is 74.9. The second map below shows the percentage of renter-occupied housing units by county. It will require further examination for a conclusion about the statewide data, but certainly in Detroit lead poisoning tends to be higher in renter-occupied housing. This fact offers an opportunity in that it would be possible to use more assertive code enforcement to require landlords to abate lead paint hazards that are so pervasive in Michigan’s older housing. Several communities in Michigan have tested this approach, which has been very effective in other major cities.

Owner 1980

Renter 1980