All toddlers will be tested for lead
Michigan made a transformational step in ending lead poisoning today when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law expanded testing.
Senate Bill 31, sponsored by Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint), and House Bill 4200, sponsored by Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) would incorporate two lead tests into the checkup routines of all Michigan children. If lead is detected, children would be treated accordingly and tested more often.
Under current law, only children on Medicaid are required to be tested for lead. But not all children who are exposed to the toxic metal are on Medicaid. About 70% of Michigan homes—the most common source of lead poisoning—were built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned. This means that the 4,000 or so children diagnosed with lead poisoning in Michigan each year is likely an undercount.
"It's a great day for children's health and the health and wellness of the people of Michigan," said TaNiccia Henry—co-leader of the Detroit Lead Advocacy Parent Group, whose grandson was poisoned by lead in Henry's own home. "Lead testing needs to be mandatory for every single child, and the problem I have right next door is the reason why."
The day the lead bills passed the Legislature, next-door renovators showered Henry's home with potentially lead-laden dust, so she shut her windows and called local officials. She said the universal testing legislation will give parents the knowledge and resources to protect their kids.
The legislation is the result of years of advocacy and education from Henry and the other 184 members of the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH). The Michigan Environmental Council is its organizer.
"Universal lead testing would not be possible without the parents and healthcare workers who spent 13 years fighting for it," said Melissa Cooper Sargent, environmental health advocate for the Ecology Center and MIALSH member. "Now, lead poisoning can be caught and treated before it devastates children's mental and physical development. All children will be better able to thrive at school, at home, and with friends."
The lead testing bills’ movement comes as other lead poisoning prevention policies gain traction in the Legislature. Bills to install lead water filters in all schools and childcare centers are poised for passage. A bill that would move a key federal remediation program under state control has also been introduced.
"Universal testing will have the most profound impact on ending lead poisoning since lead paint was banned in 1978," said Ellen Vial, Detroit program manager for the Michigan Environmental Council and MIALSH member. "When paired with other great health legislation underway, 2023 could be a year of truly transformational change."
Now, MIALSH will work to prepare families, organizations, and health departments for the shift toward universal lead testing. It will also continue to educate lawmakers about its other top priorities: lead-safe home repairs and inspections.
Help us make 2023 the year that ends lead poisoning
The Michigan Environmental Council has been a leader in lead poisoning prevention for over 13 years. We organize the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, which is powered by healthcare professionals is parents.
While our top priority—universal lead testing—is close to becoming law, we're turning our effort to making sure it's implemented properly. We're also advocating for legislation to get more homes tested and treated for lead and to install filters in all schools and childcare centers.
Your gift of any size will support our staff's capacity to continue organizing, educating, and supporting good policy and great groups of people.
An earlier version of this post was published on Sept. 19, 2023. It has been updated.