Over the past four months, the Detroit Health Department (DHD) has stepped up its efforts to address lead exposure in Detroit as part of the Lead Safe Detroit, an initiative that aims to prevent lead exposure, provides services to children exposed to lead, and facilitates the reduction of environmental hazards in the home.
The City has begun testing for elevated levels of lead in blood among eligible children receiving immunizations or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits across Department clinics. Between April and July, DHD has conducted nearly 30% more tests compared to the same period last year.
The Department is leading a city-wide coalition to coordinate services and improve support for children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) and their families. Among the services provided are lead education for parents and caretakers; screening and testing for elevated blood lead; home inspections for environmental lead; home lead abatement; and lead enforcement in rental properties. The partnership is led by the Health Department, and includes Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED), Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD), Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD), ClearCorps Detroit, and Wayne State University’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiatives.
Each month, the lead team meets with leaders representing each department. At meetings, the first half is spent discussing each case of elevated blood lead to make sure that each child and family is receiving all the benefits to which a child is entitled to minimize the impact of lead exposure on a child’s health. The second half of the meeting is spent exploring opportunities to improve services – such as facilitating applications for families, coordinating visits by inspectors and nurses, or improving enforcement on rental owners.
The coalition has focused mainly on home lead exposure. Unfortunately, the vast majority of children with elevated blood lead are exposed in the home, as 93% of Detroit homes were built before 1978, before lead was banned in paint. So the coalition has focused on opportunities to reduce lead exposure in homes, including water testing, rental enforcement, and improving the coordination of abatement services.
“Tackling the lead challenge in Detroit means coordinating our response, and creating a system by which every child with elevated lead levels is identified, and every service we can provide them is delivered every time,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Executive Director and Health Officer for the Detroit Health Department. “We’ve found that the simple act of testing for elevated lead in our WIC and immunizations clinics has allowed us to test children who never would have been tested elsewhere.”
That 30% increase in testing is largely responsible for the slight uptick in elevated lead levels that the City experienced between April and June of this year.
“When you test kids who are the most vulnerable, you’re going to get more cases and higher rate,” Dr. El-Sayed said, “but that’s because we’ve improved our testing.”
Because of the department’s leadership on the lead challenge through the Lead Safe Detroit initiative and its work to facilitate testing schools for elevated lead levels in water, Dr. El-Sayed was appointed to the Childhood Lead Elimination Board, led by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. This board will deliver recommendations for policy and administrative adjustments to eliminate lead in children in Michigan over the next decade.
The Detroit Health Department is a statute-mandated local health department that safeguards the health and well-being of the City of Detroit. Its mission is to improve the health and quality of life of Detroiters through innovative public health policy, programs, and partnerships. It is built on a culture of accountability, transparency and collaboration. The 150-person, $30 million agency is among the largest health departments in Michigan, overseeing $25 million in State and Federal funding for services and programs that include food and environmental safety; WIC; lead services; vision and hearing screening; public health emergency preparedness; local maternal and child health; and HIV/AIDS services. Under new leadership, the Detroit Health Department is in the midst of both a growth and reorganization process aiming to integrate services and programs around core life stages, as well as to establish key capacities in health policy and data analysis and project development and management.
The Detroit Health Department offers home visits, nutrition education, lead dust reduction education and referrals and recommends that families do the following to help reduce the risk of lead poisoning by:
· Washing your child’s toys, bottles, pacifiers and hands frequently.
· Cleaning your home frequently and keeping it dust-free.
· Keeping your child away from bare soil areas.
· Offering your child foods that are high in iron, calcium and vitamin C.
· Testing your child for lead once a year at the pediatrician.
The Detroit Health Department recommends annual screening for all children between the ages of 9 months old and 6 years of age. Parents who would like to have their child tested for lead should contact their pediatrician, the Detroit Medical Center Department of Pediatrics, or the Detroit Health Department’s Clinics: Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner St., 313-410-8142, and Family Place, 8726 Woodward, 313-410-7803.