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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.