Environmental justice is hard work – and complex – but just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something. And this particular something is really, really important: lowering elevated blood lead levels in babies and children.
The amount of lead in kids’ blood has decreased dramatically in the past several decades thanks to public health efforts and the removal of lead from gasoline. Still, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.” Each year, nearly half a million U.S. kids have elevated blood lead levels — and in 2019, 1,299 of them lived in Detroit. Let’s be clear: there is no level of lead exposure that is safe. And even at low levels of exposure, the effects of lead exposure can be devastating: brain damage, decreased school achievement, behavioral problems, and other severe developmental issues.
The dangers of lead have gotten some welcome attention the last few years in part due to the water crises in Washington D.C. and Flint, Mich. Strides are being made to replace lead water lines and that’s good – very good. But we also need more progress on addressing the dangerous lead lurking in aging homes because of lead paint. According to a study by the Detroit Health Department, Johns Hopkins University Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, and University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, in Detroit, Mich., 90% of homes were built in 1978 prior to when restrictions on the lead content in paint were imposed. As these homes age or are demolished, lead exposure among Detroit children rises.
An example of this is Sierra Cole who lives in Detroit. After discovering that her children had elevated blood lead levels she was confused and scared. She joined De-Lead Education and Advocacy in Detroit (D-LEAD) – a parent advocacy group that is convened and sponsored by the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University. After learning how to safely clean her home and protect her children their blood lead levels plummeted. Learn more about her story and D-LEAD in this short video.
Other organizations like City of Detroit, Wayne State University, Data Driven Detroit, EcoWorks, Ecology Center, Detroit Future City, CLEARCorps Detroit, Michigan Environmental Council, Building Community Value Detroit, Lakeshore Legal Aid, Southwest Detroit Business Association, and many more are committed to eliminating elevated blood lead levels in children.
Yes, environmental justice is hard work. And it’s complicated. But this one piece — this one issue — it can be fixed. It will take some time, money, education, commitment, collaboration, and patience, but it is within our grasp.