Another casualty of COVID: testing for lead poisoning in Michigan

Lloyd Toliver, takes a break from virtual schoolwork, at his Detroit home where he lives with, among others, his grandmother, TaNiccia Henry, and his infant brother, Ean Toliver.  (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

DETROIT — Flaking off of porch posts, the muted yellow paint is hardly noticeable on this bright autumn day as 8-year-old Lloyd Toliver tosses a football in the front yard and his baby brother, Ean, watches a brilliant blue sky from his grandmother’s arms.


But paint like this on this fourth-generation home can carry poison for these two boys. Particles of lead-based paint slough off into the air, fall to the floor and can be inhaled by children or swallowed by toddlers — disrupting the brain and leading to possible learning difficulties, mental health issues, aggression or behavioral problems. In rare cases, it can kill.

In a pandemic year, though, the precious little attention that Michigan public health agencies pay to such hazards has dwindled even further.

In a five-month period — from March through July — lead testing was performed on just over 32,000 children in Michigan. That’s half the number of children tested when compared to the same months in previous years.

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If children aren’t tested, of course, elevated lead levels can’t be detected. And detection is key because, while lead poisoning can’t be reversed, its impact can be mitigated through nutrition and special education plans, for example, such as was done in Flint after lead infiltrated the city’s drinking water system. 

“If you’re a child with [high levels] of lead in your blood and you don’t get tested, you’re going to lose major cognitive capacity, and that loss is not recoverable,” said Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, and an expert in lead levels in children.

Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but communities with older housing stock are more likely to have homes containing that paint, even if it’s hiding under more recent coats, according to the U.S. Environmental Agency. Nearly nine in 10 homes built before 1940 contain lead paint, and nearly one in four homes built between 1960 and 1977 still contain lead paint, according to EPA estimates.

With her grandson on her lap, Henry nodded toward dozens of homes in both directions of her street along Woodward — older structures with chipping paint.

In 2018, 1,718 children in Detroit and Wayne County tested positive for elevated levels of lead, according to state data.

“And any kid with high levels of lead and all the mental health problems or health problems that go with it — they grow up,” she said. “Who takes care of them then?”

“You’re talking about a lifetime of challenges,” said Eric Pessel, health officer in Calhoun County, which includes Battle Creek. In 2018, 150 children in Calhoun County tested positive for elevated blood levels, according to state data.

Flaking paint in TaNiccia Henry’s decades-old Detroit home may contain lead that can lead to lifelong learning disabilities and mental health issues among children. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Even before COVID-19 slammed into Michigan in March, shuttering businesses, canceling appointments and sending students to learn online, blood lead testing in Michigan was far from adequate, said Teresa Holtrup, a longtime pediatrician in southeast Michigan and now executive director of the Kids Health Connection, which links children on Medicaid to services in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Blood lead level tests often get lost on the long checklist to-do list during well-checks, especially if the child isn’t on Medicaid, which requires blood lead tests at 12 and 24 months old, she said.

Sometimes, too, a testing lab is closed or distant and busy or impoverished families can’t make it to get tested even with a doctor’s orders, Holtrop added.

Since 2008, about 1 in 5 Michigan children younger than 6 are tested each year. Even then, in 2018, more than 4,000 Michigan children of the 142,356 tested showed elevated blood lead levels, according to preliminary numbers by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

This year, those surveillance numbers will fall further as many families skip routine check-ups for fears of coming in contact with the coronavirus at a medical appointment, Holtrop said.

Meanwhile, COVID forced Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs to telemedicine and virtual visits. Public health nurses are still able to talk with families about safe sleeping habits, nutrition and proper car seats, but physical interventions — immunizations, fluoride dental applications, and lead testing — have fallen by the wayside for now, said Liz King, director of nursing and community health in St. Clair County, where 106 children tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels in 2018.

“If they're not in here for WIC, we’re not able to take advantage of that opportunity to test for lead,” said Rebecca Burns, health officer for Branch Hillsdale counties, where 47 children tested positive for high blood-lead levels in 2018, according to state data.

Alicia Jones, of Detroit, had been trained in February to help  Detroit families understand the dangers of lead poisoning. COVID-19 put those plans on hold. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

That leaves people like Alicia Jones frustrated and worried.

Another Detroit grandmother, Jones was thrilled to move into her husband’s family home full of memories and wooden beams and its red brick fireplace.

But she stopped renovations just before the pandemic, after attending a community meeting next door, where she learned about the hazards of lead dust in the air. In February, she trained as a volunteer to go home to home with other volunteers to raise awareness about lead poisoning.

She was researching, too, lead-removal contractors and local classes that teach safe ways to renovate old homes.

But it all stopped during COVID, she said recently, relaxing on the grassy lawn outside her Detroit home. 

She and other volunteers now want to get fliers to leave in laundromats and grocery stores, alerting families to the dangers of lead poisoning, letting them know about city programs that can help homeowners abate lead, and — most immediately — encouraging them to return to doctors’ offices so children can be tested before lead levels cause irreversible damage.

Like Henry, Jones said she spends much of her time wiping down surfaces in her home to make them as safe as possible for the grandchildren.

“You’d suffer so much guilt if it happened to your child or grandchild and you hadn’t done anything about it,” Jones said.

What now?

But fliers are only a start, and experts and advocates say catching up on delayed testing levels is going to be a heavy lift.

Holtrup, the pediatrician, suggests parents who take their children to the emergency room should be offered lead testing. There also has been talk of distributing home testing kits, she said.

For his part, Wayne State’s Thompson said WIC offices, if outfitted with adequate PPE, could restart testing children’s blood

And Tom Largo, manager of the Environmental Health Surveillance Section at the state’s health department, said the state may explore drive-thru blood testing, too.
Perhaps most effective, he and others suggested, would be simple phone calls from doctors to families that have missed routine annual visits in 2020.

“There has to be no-wrong-door to get these kids tested,” Holtrup said.

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middle of the mit
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:23am

Off Topic but some commenters wanted information. Let me give it to them!!

<<<The item was immediately viewed with suspicion, both for the timing of it—coming less than three weeks before the elections—and the path the laptop supposedly took. The Post said that “before turning over the gear,” the owner of the computer repair shop “made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello>>>

Does your computer repair person often make copies of your hard drive? Would you ever use that person ever again if you found out they did? NOT a good business practice.
Fail ONE!

<<<Mac Isaac said he had a medical condition that prevented him from actually seeing who dropped off the laptop but that he believed it to be Hunter Biden’s because of a sticker related to the Beau Biden Foundation that was on it. He said that Hunter Biden actually dropped off three laptops for repair, an abundance of hardware that he chalked up to the Biden son being “rich.”>>>

What sort of medical condition will allow you to run a computer shop, but NOT be able to also identify your customers? Is this person blind? Then how does he work a computer? NOT saying it can't be done.............just askin'!

<<<Throughout the interview, Mac Isaac switched back and forth from saying he reached out to law enforcement after viewing the files in the laptop to saying that it was actually the Federal Bureau of Investigation that contacted him. At one point, Mac Isaac claimed that he was emailing someone from the FBI about the laptop. At another point he claimed a special agent from the Baltimore office had contacted him after he alerted the FBI to the device’s existence. At another point, he said the FBI reached out to him for “help accessing his drive.”>>>

When you can't remember if YOU contacted the police or the police contacted might be making things up.

<<<Mac Isaac refused to answer specific questions about whether he had been in contact with Rudy Giuliani before the laptop drop-off or at any other time before the Post article’s publication. Pressed on his relationship with Giuliani, he replied: “When you’re afraid and you don’t know anything about the depth of the waters that you’re in, you want to find a lifeguard.”

Seeming to realize he’d said too much, he added: “Ah, shit.”

So Rudy was your lifeguard? the reporters asked. “No comment,” he replied.>>>

Ha ha ha ha!! Since we are allowed to throw conspiracies around this website now......

“In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

“Following an obsequious interview for a fake conservative news program, the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras. After she removes his microphone, Giuliani, 76, can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers.”

“They are then interrupted by Borat who runs in and says: ‘She’s 15. She’s too old for you.’

James O'Keefe?

That is how it is done!!

Not to mention, the Trump administration IS trying to use the DOJ and the FBI to go after their opponents. They say that Oblame-o did the same thing during the 2016 election. But did they? NOBODY knew about the investigation before the election. I didn't. And if I didn't, there weren't many other people that did. And those people kept it quiet.

Go ahead cons. Set the precedent of using the Government against your opponents. The People won't forget.

Aaaaaaaand Scene!

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 8:22am

When the government came out with all the lead certification for lead paint at federal and state level for construction workers, that was a few years ago now, I guess to be honest I thought another fee from me. The instructor we had kept quoting these stories of the devastation of lead. I guess people chewing on window sills, and eating paint chips? Because the information of how the lead got in their bodies was missing.
I also learned the miniscule amount of people supposly being affected was small and of course any other attributing factors are left out as it always seems to be iwhen we want build a narrative. The trace amounts of lead actually found when people were tested made sense to me because of the amount of lead not only all around us in our enviroment but also in the old housing we have everywhere that was painted in lead base paint. But were all the effects they were claiming from the lead? And did it lead to generations of people with learning disabilities seeing it was being used up to 1960 here in the states and in asia still today? So, lead base paints have been around forever and old houses are constantly being renovated. I thought why make a big deal about it now without it actually effecting people in any real notable way in the past? And the main effect they pointed to was was learning disabilities. For the construction worker it meant learning a whole new arena of protocols that are realistically impossible to do a 100% of measures right that they were now requiring in dealing with properties older than 1960. Thus leaving the government with another power to shut your business down or give to you huge fines for not complying. And with sometimes large complicated porcedures these protocols are not always practical. Or affordable to the property owner to have you put them into practice. To me I seen it as a way to arbitrarily bringing end to your business if they want you.

So, I had to ask what was the main demographics of those being effected. I will never forget what he said, " low income, single parent, living in more metro areas" (the picture being used in the article is spot on. It will never be a picture of an old house being renovated in Maratha's vineyard or in our case Mackinac island, just saying)
Obviously my first thought is old houses are everywhere why just these that the majority of one demographic of people are living in? Yeah you know what my next thought was. Politicians have incapacitated a whole group of people working to make them think they are dummer and trapped while appealing to them that they have been victimized through things like this all for their votes with no hopes. But I will leave that for the politicians to argue out.

Is lead poisoning real, yes! but it does dissipate and the amount you need to have any real effect on the human body is quite a large amount. And what's really unknown is how much lead paint contributes to it, it was an assumption made by bureaucrats relying on science. Yeah, haven't we heard that one before! Moreover, it seems to be ingesting the amount of lead needed to really hurt you unknowlingly doesn't even seem possible , unless you have a daily diet of lead your ingesting for awhile purposely this is what I learned. Even exposure to the lead pipes used for over century or bitting on your fishing sinkers to close them on your line didn't seem to meet that quota, Most likly if tested they would find some trace amount of lead in you too, it is going to happen just like this cold virus eventually, just saying

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:03am

Lead pipes are not to bad UNLESS you run chlorinated dioxins through the leaded pipes like Snyder order his EM to do to the people of Flint, MI>>>>
Snyders DEQ did delete all information on what IS in the Flint River when this BS hit the news>>>> WHY??????????

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 5:47pm

Pray for the people of Flint and Oscoda and the other areas of Mi. Do the infrastructure you promised. R.L>

Sat, 10/24/2020 - 8:05am

Mi. has done a really good job taking care of this in Oscoda and Flint. Ya right