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Federal government awards millions to Kent County, Grand Rapids for lead hazard removal

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded over $9 million to Kent County and Grand Rapids to tackle lead hazards in homes built before 1978. The funding aims to address the high levels of lead found in children's blood in the region.
City of Grand Rapids staff pose with the ceremonial check from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

City of Grand Rapids staff pose with the ceremonial check from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development /Allison Donahue

Half the houses in Grand Rapids were built before the 1978 federal ban on lead-based paint, leading to a higher proportion of children under six years old with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) in Kent County, city and county officials said Tuesday. 

With a recent investment of more than $9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Kent County and Grand Rapids, local leaders hope to address this issue. 

"The health and safety of our community is a top priority," said Stan Stek, chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners. "This grant will provide the necessary funds to increase our capacity and further tackle in-home lead hazards." 

Grand Rapids received $6 million from the Lead Hazard Control Demonstration Grant to identify and address lead-based paint hazards in homes and $600,000 from Healthy Homes supplemental funding to help with safety and non-lead health hazards. 

Kent County received nearly $2.5 million from the Lead Hazard Reduction Capacity Building Grant. 

HUD Michigan Field Office Director Michael Polsinelli presented the multi-million-dollar awards to officials from Grand Rapids and Kent County during a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday. HUD allocates these grants to state and local governments that work to develop cost-effective ways to reduce lead-based paint hazards, provide public outreach and technical assistance and conduct technical studies to help protect children and their families from health and safety hazards.

 "All these steps are critical for us to have a holistic approach to ensure that we are not just responding to these hazards, but that we are doing everything we can to prevent any child in our community from lead-based paint poisoning," Bliss said. 

According to a 2021 report from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP), Grand Rapids has the second-highest number of children with elevated blood lead levels in the state, following Detroit. 

The data shows 4.6% of tested children under six years old in Grand Rapids had elevated levels of lead in their blood. 

Bliss said addressing lead poisoning hazards has been a longtime priority for her, spanning two decades and beginning during her career as a medical social worker. 

Since the city's program began in 2004, lead-based paint hazards have been addressed in more than 1,500 homes, 154 people have been certified as lead abatement professionals and 3,400 residents, property owners and contractors have been trained in lead-safe cleaning and work practices, according to city officials. 

Over the next four years, the city will address lead-based paint hazards in 180 homes, assist 40 individuals or businesses in obtaining lead abatement supervisor certifications, and train 600 rental property owners, contractors and others in lead-safe work practices, Bliss said. 

At the county level, the funds will be used over three years to develop a new lead program for communities located primarily outside Grand Rapids. This includes abatement activities, contractor development and a county-wide educational campaign. Additionally, this funding will be used alongside the $3.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated by the Kent County Board of Commissioners in December 2022. 

In Kent County, the percentage of tested children under 6 with elevated blood lead levels has decreased over time but is still higher than the state average. 

According to state lead levels data, 13.1% of tested children in the state in 2010 had elevated levels, and by 2022 that number had dropped to 4.2%. In that same timeframe, the state average decreased from 10.9% to 3.7%. 

"Lead abatement is a new service for Kent County but necessary to ensure every child has the opportunity to live in a healthy and thriving environment," Stek said. "Our staff is excited to strengthen our partnership with the city and community organizations in addressing lead hazards and making a real impact in our community."

Lead hazards aren’t just a Kent County issue, but something the state is working toward improving as well. 

In October, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills, Senate Bill 31, introduced by Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint), and House Bill 4200, introduced by state Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit), that would ensure that all children at 12 and 24 months are tested for lead poisoning regardless of insurance coverage, allowing for an opt-out for parents.

 “Lead poisoning poses a serious health risk to kids not only in Flint, but across Michigan,” said Cherry in an October press release. “To protect the health of our children, families and communities we must take the necessary steps to address this pressing issue on multiple fronts, including during regular healthcare checkups.”


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