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Detroit, MI

Detroit Lead Partnership: Position Statement

Information - Position Statement - 5 Steps - Suggested Policy Changes

( download position statement in .pdf format)

  1. THE ISSUE: Many thousands of Detroit's children face a huge challenge due to lead poisoning, which is reducing their intelligence, disrupting their behavior and undermining their performance in school. It is our responsibility as adults to protect all Detroit's children from this problem. This means that all of Detroit's young children must be tested annually for elevated blood lead levels, their homes cleaned of lead dust, and interim controls or lead hazard abatement be completed wherever possible.

  2. SCALE OF THE PROBLEM: Based upon the U.S. Census, approximately 73.9 percent of Detroit's homes were built before 1955, and, therefore, they contain high levels of lead in their paint. As a result, all children in Detroit are considered at risk of lead poisoning by the Michigan Department of Community Health. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control ranks Detroit sixth in the nation on lead poisoning, after considering population at risk and the age of housing.

    A huge number of children actually have harmful levels of lead in their blood. For 2001, these included:

    • 473 children six or under had levels at or above 20 ug/dL , a level of lead poisoning so serious that the city requires the inspection of any housing unit where a child with this level resides.
    • 2,755 children had levels between 10 and 19.9 ug/dL, a level that the CDC considers elevated, and Detroit Health Department says is poisonous.
    • 10,843 have blood lead levels between 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood (ug/dL) and 9.9, a level the Detroit Health Department considers at-risk. Some studies indicate these levels of lead in the blood decrease achievement for children.

    These data underestimate the number of lead poisoned children because not every child was tested. In fact, state data indicates that over 60,800 Detroit children were not tested in 2001. If the rates of lead poisoning indicated by those who were tested in 2001 are representative of all Detroit's children under 6, approximately 9,800 would have levels of 10 ug/dL or above, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) standard for lead poisoning.

    Still, this is not the full scale of the problem, because these are only the year 2001 data. Data for 1999 produced an estimate of over 13,700 children of 10 ug/dL or above, while data for 2000 produced an estimate of over 9,800. According to the state there is only a small overlap between the samples from year-to-year. This means that tens of thousands of additional young Detroit children are being poisoned every year. And the effects of lead poisoning are ongoing.


  • LEAD POISONED CHILDREN: Lead poisoning is a predictor of devastating consequences for children. Lower IQ's, lower achievement scores, higher school dropout rates and more delinquency have been shown to be associated with lead poisoning. Each lead poisoned child could have reduced employment opportunities and lowered earning potential. Higher levels of lead poisoning have additional health consequences including anemia, kidney damage, hearing loss and mental retardation.
  • FAMILIES: Families feel pain from loss of their children's potential, guilt from unknowing exposure to household lead hazards and anger at landlords and others, including governments, for not preventing risks.
  • DETROIT SCHOOLS (PUBLIC AND PRIVATE): Research indicates that deficits in cognitive functioning occur even for children with blood lead levels of 5 ug/dl. Teaching is more difficult, special education classes may be necessary, and there are more dropouts. According to studies, lead poisoning is likely to produce a seven-fold increase in failure to graduate from high school.
  • MEDICAID: Failure to prevent lead poisoning increases expenses for health care of children for public health and social services, for investigations of households and other lead sources.
  • LANDLORDS: Property owners become potential defendants in civil lawsuits, which often result in six figure monetary settlements.
  • FISCAL EFFECTS: The failure to abate contaminated housing and to implement a plan for future abatements means that the housing stock of the city continues to deteriorate, lose market value and become more susceptible to abandonment. This, in turn, erodes the city's tax base and undermines the quality of city services. The lead poisoning of our children results in higher health care costs as the city's health care institutions struggle to provide care.
  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Developmental and mental impairment of children from lead poisoning means that when they become adults they may be less able to meet the increased challenges of the workplace. The City is less likely to be perceived as a viable economic destination for new and innovative businesses.
  • STATE OF MICHIGAN: Failure to prevent lead poisoning leads to greater state spending for health, education and welfare for affected children throughout their lifespan. The state government needs to increase efforts to prevent lead poisoning of Detroit's, as well as the entire states' children, to fulfill its constitutional duty to protect public health


We acknowledge and salute the many existing efforts of the City of Detroit to remedy the problems with lead poisoning of Detroit's children. We are particularly impressed with the Detroit Health Department's reorganization of its programs over the last year. More needs to be accomplished, however, including:

  • Before 2004, double the share of Detroit's children six and under who are tested for lead poisoning from 23 percent to 46 percent within two years. Testing allows targeting interventions to help children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs).
  • Before 2003, increase to approximately 1,000 a year the number of homes that that have lead-specific cleaning and interim control services to remove lead dust and protect surfaces that are likely to produce more dust in the short term. Currently only a few dozen homes receive these services per year. Foundation and CDBG funds should be pursued for these purposes.
  • Before 2003, increase to 500 a year the number of homes in Detroit where lead is abated by window replacement, door improvements and encapsulation of deteriorating lead paint. Less than 100 homes are likely to be abated this year. To do this the City of Detroit must effectively use existing Michigan, CDBG, and HUD funding.
  • By 2002, begin using the existing process of annual inspections of apartments in the City of Detroit by the Buildings and Safety Engineering Department to inspect one-fifth of rental dwellings each year for peeling paint and lead dust. Use code enforcement procedures proactively to require landlords to abate these sources of lead poisoning. The City will need to increase the number of inspectors and train them in recognition of lead hazards. Amendments to city ordinances may be necessary.
  • By 2002, create a roster of lead safe homes in Detroit for families needing to relocate temporarily or permanently away from homes with lead risks.
  • By 2002, expand the resources allocated to neighborhood organizations to educate and train households to keep children and homes lead safe.
  • By 2002, the City of Detroit should develop a strategic plan to accomplish these goals including detailed plans for how they will be accomplished. This plan should either assure coordinated action across city departments with an advocate in the mayor's office. Alternatively, this plan should provide for a reorganization of the city's lead remediation efforts in a single organizational unit, led by an appointee with direct access to the mayor. This plan would include an overall goal of eliminating lead poisoning in Detroit's children by 2010.
  • Within the first six months of 2002 the City of Detroit should articulate an agenda for state-level advocacy and policy making on lead remediation. This should include at least the following items:
    • Before 2004, Michigan should pass a law to make lead safe all homes across the state where children have EBLLs, to be funded by the owner or, where the owner is low income, through state appropriations. To help pay for these cost, two measures should be approved:
      • A state property tax deduction for the costs of lead abatement of homes that have been occupied sometime in the last year by a child.
      • A fee on all building permits for homes built before 1978 to help pay for lead remediation.
    • Assurance from the governor and director of the Michigan Department of Community Health that Detroit will get a share of state funds for lead abatement and remediation equal to its share of children with lead poisoning above the level of 10 ug/dL. Without such understanding the mayor should pursue a change to that effect in the boilerplate language of the budget of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
    • Before 2003, in keeping with the Healthy People 2010 and Healthy Detroit 2010 goals of eliminating childhood lead poisoning (10 ug/dl and above), establish in law a state policy to virtually eliminate lead poisoning among Michigan's children by 2010.
    • By state law, beginning in 2003, require lead hazard inspections prior to rentals or change in ownership of residential buildings built prior to 1978. Require that the results be provided in writing to owners and all parents of children who might reside in the buildings. As is the case in other states such as California, all homes, where lead exceeds a safe level and children are the expected occupants, would be remediated prior to occupation.
    • By early 2002, the State of Michigan should create a statutory lead poisoning prevention planning commission. The mission of this group would be to provide a roadmap for implementing policies to make Michigan's children free of lead poisoning by at least 2010.


Carole Ann Beaman, Ph.D., Disability Services/Mental Health Coordinator
Detroit Public Schools Project Head Start

Toni Hartke, Project Director
Detroit Public Schools Project Head Start

Debra Spring, Executive Director
Vistas Nuevas Head Start

Beverly Sullivan, Health Director
Renaissance Head Start

Faye Cadwell, MSW, Citizen

Glenn Brown, Wayne County Environmental Health Director, Retired

Mary Sue Schottenfels, Director, CLEARCorps Detroit

Sue Charette, Director, Healthy Homes Detroit

Larry Fleischman, M.D., President, Children's Hospital

Teresa Holtrop, M.D., Children's Hospital

Catholic Youth Organization, Suzanne Heath

Coalition of Labor Union Women, Millie Hall

Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit, Elena Herrada

Think Detroit, Michael F. Tenbush

Travelers Aid Society, Earnestine Coates

We Care About Van Dyke-Seven Mile, Inc, John Bosch

Westminster-Kenilworth Block Club, Helen Pitts

Corktown Citizen District Council

Eastside Community Resource Center

Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation

Hubbard-Richard Community Council

IBEW Local 58

Inner City Sub Center

Northeast Detroit Community Development

Russell Street Community Development Corporation

Warren/Conner Development Coalition

Ward Street Block Club

UAW International Health & Safety Dept.

UAW Local 2334

U -SNAP - BAC Denise Williams


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