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Michigan Lead Safe Partnership: Fact Sheet

Childhood Lead Poisoning in Michigan
( download fact sheet in .pdf format)

Lead poisoning is the number one environmental threat for thousands of Michigan children their families and it adversely affects their communities and the State of Michigan.

While entirely preventable, lead poisoning results in permanent brain damage in young children. Children are at highest risk because of lead's neurotoxic effects, which reduce intelligence and attention span and cause learning difficulties and behavior problems [1]. And total economic costs for Michigan's lead poisoned children may well be more than $1 billion each year.


Every day in Michigan in 2001, on average:

  • 13 children under age six were found to be lead poisoned. [2]
  • if there had been complete testing, 82 children under age six may have been found to be lead poisoned [3]

During 2001:
  • as many as twenty percent of Michigan's children under age six were lead poisoned in some urban neighborhoods.[4]
  • over 4700 Michigan children were lead poisoned and an additional 20,000 were found to have damaging blood lead levels of 5 to 9 ug/dl.[5]
  • only 11 percent of Michigan's children under age six were tested for lead poisoning.[6]
  • only 25 percent of Medicaid eligible children under 6were tested [7], despite higher risk of lead poisoning and despite federal mandates requiring 100 percent testing.


Children's Education
  • Intelligence Quotient : Lead poisoning has a devastating impact on the IQ of children. There is an average of 5.5 or more IQ point reduction for each 10 ug/dl increase in blood lead level.[8]
  • Educational Deficits : Children with even very low blood lead levels, below current CDC Guidelines, show poorer performance on tests of arithmetic skills, reading skills, nonverbal reasoning and short term memory.[9]
  • High Drop Out Rates : "Early lead exposure is associated with a sevenfold increase in risk of failing to graduate from high school and six-fold increase in a student's having a reading disability."[10]
  • Permanent Damage : It is very difficult to reverse the impacts of lead posioning. While it may be possible to rehabilitate the brain partially to reverse the damage caused by lead poisoning, more often than not, this rehabilitation is not available to children who are lead poisoned. Thus a large population of children is permanently damaged by this completely preventable cause of brain injury. [11]

Behavior: Adolescent boys with elevated blood lead levels are more likely to engage in acts of bullying, vandalism, arson, shoplifting and other delinquent behaviors.[12]

Economics: The total annual economic costs of childhood lead poisoning in Michigan could be some $1.4 billion (based on Michigan's portion of national economic cost estimates). Total annual economic costs of lead poisoning in American children are estimated to be $43.4 billion including costs of direct health care, rehabilitation, lower wages and diminished earnings; but not including costs of pain, deterioration of life or emotional suffering.[13] Our state's annual special education costs for the 50 or so severely lead poisoned children, who require chelation therapy each year, are approximately $10 million.[14]


The primary sources of childhood lead poisoning exposures are deteriorated lead paint, soil, and dust in contaminated older housing.[15]

Much of Michigan's housing stock is old, making it likely to present significant lead hazards to our children. 1,104,913 housing units, that is twenty six percent of the 4,234,279 homes in the state[16], have significant lead hazards if national rates [17] also apply here.


Lead poisoning presents a clear and present danger to Michigan's children. The cost to future generations in terms of lost potential and the cost to the State can no longer be ignored. The time to act is now.

*Note: National data suggests that there could be significant lead hazards in 68 % of Michigan housing units built before 1940, 43 % built from 1940 to 1959, 8 % built from 1960 to 1979 and 3 % built from1980 to 1998.(15 and 16) [Dates slightly skewed from 1978 and 1979].

1. "Protecting Children From Lead Poisoning And Building Healthy Communities." Ryan D et al. American Journal of Public Health. June 1999; 89: 822-824
2 and 6. Childhood Lead Poisoning Facts [2001], Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), 2002. [Data adapted]
3. Scott R, E-mail, MDCH, Lansing Michigan, April 14, 2002 [Data adapted]
4. Unpublished 2001 Datafile, Kent County Health Department
5. Childhood Lead Poisoning Information Sheet, Including Blood Lead Levels 5 to 9 ug/dl [2001], MDCH, August 2002 [Data adapted]
7. 2001 Annual Report on Blood Lead Levels in Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services and MDCH, Lansing, Michigan, 2002.
8. Press Release, Pediatric Academic Societies. April 2001
9. "Cognitive Deficits Associated with Blood Lead Concentrations <10 ug/dl in U.S. Children and Adolescents." Lanphear BP et al. Public Health Reports. Nov/Dec 2000; 115: 521-529
10. "Childhood Exposure to Lead: A Common Cause of School Failure." Needleman HL. Phi Delta Kappan. September 1992
11. Personal Communication. Holtrop T. Childrens Hospital of Michigan, Detroit, Michigan. December 10, 2002.
12. Bone Lead Levels and Delinquent Behavior Needleman HL. Journal of the American Medical Association , February 7, 1996, 363-369.
13. "Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality, and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer, and Developmental Disabilities." Landrigan PJ.et al. Environmental Health Perspectives. July 2002: 110:721-72812.
14. Did You Know Fact Sheet. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, MDCH. February13, 2002.
15. "Blood Lead Levels in Young Children---United States and Selected States, 1996" Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 22. 2000.
16. Selected Housing Characteristics 2000: Michigan, Table DP-4. U.S. Census Bureau, 2001
17. "The Prevalence of Lead-Based Paint Hazards In U.S. Housing." Jacobs DE et al. Environmental Health Perspectives 110, A599-A606. [Data adapted]


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