Four Detroit zip codes have more than 16% of tested children with elevated blood lead levels

According to 2014 data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Detroit zip codes of 48204 (where Grand River Ave. and Joy Road both cross Livernois), 48206 (just west of New Center), 48211 (just east of Hamtramck) and 48214 (West Village/Indian Village area) had the highest estimated percentages (between 16.4% and 21.1%) of children with an elevated blood lead level >/=5 ug/dL . 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 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).1 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.2

Of the 30 zip codes in the city of Detroit, seven had 4.5 percent or less of children test with an elevated blood lead level of >/=5 ug/dL. Of these zip codes, and all the Detroit zip codes, 48201 (which is the Midtown/Cass Corridor section of Detroit) had the highest percentage of children tested for lead poisoning in 2014. In Midtown/Cass Corridor area, 58.4 percent of the children were tested for lead poisoning.

Lead is a heavy metal that accumulates in the body when ingested, and has toxic effects on the nervous system, cognitive development, and blood production. A child can get lead poisoning from two main sources: deteriorating lead based paint, airborne lead based particles that can be inhaled as dust. Deteriorating lead-based paint is especially hazardous when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as windows and window sills, doors and door frames, stairs, railings, banisters, and porches.3 Air-borne lead paint particle dust, does not necessarily have to be inhaled, but can also settle in nearby soil and on porches, windowsills and stairs and can therefore also increase risk of being ingested by children as they crawl or play.4 A lead dust equivalent of only three grains of sugar can begin to poison a child.5

The main target for lead is the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system leading to lifelong behavior and learning problems.6 Estimates show a 2.6-point decrease in IQ level for every 10 µg/dL increase in blood lead and studies have found that significant damage occurs even at BLLs below 5 µg/dL.7 I In addition, lead poisoned kids are seven times more likely to drop out of high school.8 Locally, about 60 percent of DPS students who performed below their grade level on 2008 standardized tests had elevated lead levels.8

Lead poisoning can also result in inattentiveness, hyperactivity, disorganization, aggression, increased risk of delinquency.9 Studies have shown, higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes.10 For every 5 µg/dL increase in blood lead levels, the risk of being arrested for a violent crime as a young adult increased by almost 50%.11

There is no current effective treatment of children with elevated blood lead levels.7






  1. CDC: Lead (
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013).
  3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013).
  4. Farfel, M., Orlova, A., Lees, P., Rohde, C., Ashley, P., and Chisolm, J. “A Study of Urban Housing Demolitions as Sources of Lead in Ambient Dust: Demolition Practices and Exterior Dust Fall.” Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 111, Issue 5 (2003): 1228-1234).
  5. Olden, K., PhD. “Environmental Risks to the Health of American Children.” Preventative Medicine 22 (1993): 576-578.
  6. 6. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013).
  7. Zhang, N., Baker, H.W., Tufts, M., Raymond, R.E., Salihu, H., & Elliott, M.R. (2013).  Early Childhood Lead Exposure and Academic Achievement: Evidence from Detroit Public Schools, 2008-2010.  American Journal of Public Health, 103(3), e72-e77.
  8. Lam, T. and Tanner-White, K. “High lead levels hurt learning for DPS kids.” Detroit Free Press (May 16, 2010).
  9. Zubrzycki, J. “Lead-Exposure Problems Spotlighted in Detroit.” Education Weekly Vol. 32, Issue 5 (2012): 6-9.
  10. 10. Drum, K. “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” Mother Jones (Jan. 3, 2013).

11 Wright, J. et al. “Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood.”


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