Michigan lawmakers OK universal lead screening for young children
- Michigan Senate OKs universal child lead screening bills
- Plan would require lead screening at 1 and 2 years old
- Legislation is heading to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for approval
LANSING — Michigan physicians would generally be required to test or order testing for lead poisoning for all young children in the state under legislation heading to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her expected signature.
The Democratic-led state Senate approved the two-bill package Tuesday in a series of 27-10 votes. Republicans largely opposed the measure but did not explain their concerns.
Supporters say the legislation is an important attempt to boost detection and mitigation of lead poisoning in Michigan, which in 2021 ranked third-highest in the nation for the percentage of children with elevated lead levels in their blood.
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Federal law already requires all children who are covered by government-funded Medicaid insurance to be tested for lead poisoning when they turn 1 and 2 years old, but that only covers about 1 in 4 Michigan kids.
The universal lead screening legislation would expand that requirement to all children at 12 months and 24 months — unless parents object. And kids under 4 would be required to test if there is not a record of them doing so at a younger age.
Lead exposure can result in developmental issues, brain and nervous system damage, learning and behavioral problems, slow growth and hearing or speech problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There’s no safe amount of lead that can come into your bloodstream, and this is just going to make sure we help parents know if their child is being exposed,” sponsoring Sen. John Cherry, D-Flint, told reporters after the final votes.
Michigan has been home to multiple high-profile lead crises in recent years, including public water system contamination in Flint and Benton Harbor, where residents were forced to drink bottled water after old pipes had tainted their taps.
“I think Flint was kind of the canary in the coal mine,” said Cherry, who represents the city in the upper chamber. “The lessons we learned in my community, we want to make sure we’re taking those lessons or making changes to try to help everybody before similar things happen.”
In 2021, the most recent year with available data, 96,462 Michigan children under 6 years old underwent lead testing, and 3.5 percent had elevated blood levels above the CDC's action level, according to state health department data.
At least 10 states already have universal lead screening policies of some kind, according to a 2017 report by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families nonprofit.
Michigan would join them under the new legislation. Kids who live in high-risk areas would also be required to test at age 4. And those who live in older homes likely to have lead paint could also be required to test at additional intervals.
A companion House bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Helena Scott of Detroit, would require the state to update childhood immunization certificates to include a space where health providers would have to indicate whether a child has been tested for lead.
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