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Parents react to data showing 49507 leads state in lead poisoned children

49507 is the zip code that has most lead-poisoned kids in the state of Michigan. Parents, representatives met on Oct. 30 in Grand Rapids to tackle the lead-paint problem that’s poisoned more children than Flint’s water crisis.
Lisa Matthews, Luvinia Burch, and Tabitha Williams talk solutions to lead poisoning in the 49507 zip code.

Lisa Matthews, Luvinia Burch, and Tabitha Williams talk solutions to lead poisoning in the 49507 zip code. /Courtesy of Healthy Homes Coalition

Underwriting support from:

Funding is available to Get the Lead Out!

Anyone who owns or rents a home in the city of Grand Rapids built before 1978 is encouraged to learn about funding eligibility. For more information, please call the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan at 616-241-3300 or visit Or, contact the city of Grand Rapids Community Development Department at 616-456-3030.



Parents for Healthy Homes

Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan

Get the Lead Out! Home Repair Program

/Courtesy of Healthy Homes Coalition

Tabitha Williams of Parents for Healthy Homes welcomes parents to a meeting at Dickinson School on October 30, 2017.

Tabitha Williams of Parents for Healthy Homes welcomes parents to a meeting at Dickinson School on October 30, 2017. /Courtesy of Healthy Homes Coalition

After a decade of decline, the number of lead-poisoned children in Kent County is rising. Recent data shows a 40 percent increase in lead-poisoned children in the 49507 zip code during the past two years. This Grand Rapids neighborhood ranks number one in the state for the number of lead-poisoned children.

Parents for Healthy Homes, a recently formed parent-led advocacy group, hosted a Lead Speak Out on Oct. 30 at Dickinson Academy on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

The alarming lead-paint-poisoning statistics frustrate and anger parent LyRee Adams. “These are our kids, and they’re being poisoned – our future is being poisoned,” Adams said. “We need to let more people know about lead poisoning and how to stop it from happening in the first place. Prevention is key.”

Now she’s speaking out. She joined more than 40 other concerned parents at the Oct. 30 Speak Out to address the lead problem in the community. The event brought together about 40 parents for problem solving. Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack attended to learn from his constituents.

“There have been a lot of things done in our community to prevent lead exposure over the years. While these things initially worked well, they are no longer resulting in fewer children being poisoned as they used to. I think parents hold the key to doing better by our kids and how we can help children to stop hurting,” said Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan executive director Paul Haan.

Shirley Jones, a Grand Rapids parent and grandparent, was among the local parents leading roundtable discussions.  “Hearing the stories of families affected by lead – especially that 49507 leads the state for most lead-poisoned children – piqued my interest and I wanted to get involved and talk to parents about prevention. There’s a bed-bug registry for hotels – why shouldn’t there be a similar registry of homes with lead-based paint?” Jones said.

Lisa Matthews, also a Grand Rapids parent and grandparent, agreed.

“We need to get this information out there. There are a lot of parents who don’t know about the dangers of lead-based paint,” Matthews said.

Matthews’ 3-year-old grandson tested positive for lead a year ago. She encourages parents to get their children tested but said it’s also important for the house itself to be tested for presence of lead.

“If your home has issues, even if your child hasn’t tested positive for lead, work together with your landlord to get the lead out before the child is poisoned. As parents, we should be the main ones to step forward. We're the first to know what's going on with our kids and we need to take action. But landlords are responsible too,” Matthews said. “We need to work together.”

Dozens of suggestions and comments initially written on Post-It notes by the parents were then projected on a large screen for all at the event to see and discuss.

One parent suggested mandatory lead testing at all yearly health checkups. Another suggested free lead testing of all homes. Many wanted more education about the issue in the community.

Parent LyRee Adams suggested “reciprocity agreements” with landlords: “If a renter has to give a deposit to a landlord, shouldn’t the landlord have to give some kind of guarantee that the property is lead-free?” she posed.

Ultimately, the parents in attendance advocated strongly for educational opportunities in their communities, a stronger presence in the media, and required testing of homes and children for lead. 

With support of the Healthy Homes Coalition, the parent leaders will continue to work on awareness-building and actionable steps, continuing to reach out to a wider array of parents and community leaders.

What the data says about lead in 49507

According to data provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), 617 Kent County children had elevated blood-lead levels in 2016 – the year for which most recent data is available. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) as the reference level at which the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

Lead poisoning is also rising in zip codes 49504 and 49503. Two out of every three lead poisoned-children in Kent County live in zip codes 49507, 49504 or 49503. These are high-poverty, high-minority neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.

African-American children were lead-poisoned at twice the rate of white children in Grand Rapids in 2015, according to MDHHS data.

It should be noted that lead in the water is not the culprit here: The city of Grand Rapids water testing under the federal Lead and Copper Rule demonstrates that Grand Rapids has been in compliance since 2001. The amount of lead in Grand Rapids water is far below federal thresholds and is among the safest in the state.

Lead lurks in the interior and exterior paint of homes built before 1978 – the year lead-based paint was banned – and most houses in the city of Grand Rapids were built before that year. Paint flakes and peels, and when improperly scraped or sanded off, dangerous lead dust can be kicked up. That flaking, peeling lead paint and dust – ingested or breathed in – can be dangerous to anyone. But lead is especially toxic to babies, children and pregnant women.

It doesn’t take much lead to create a toxic situation. One gram of lead dust is enough to make 25,000 square feet of flooring hazardous for young children, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) regulations.

“We’re talking an amount as small as the equivalent of a packet of Sweet’N Low – just that small amount is enough to contaminate the floors of a dozen homes in Grand Rapids,” said Haan.

Possible solutions

Discovering and discussing solutions was part of Monday night’s event. But some obvious solutions already exist:

1. All children under age 6 should be tested for lead, especially at ages 1 and 2.

However, Haan noted that finding out that a child has already been lead poisoned is acting too late. “While it is important to test kids, we need to do more than use our kids as lead detectors,” he said. “Preventing exposure in the first place is key.”

2. Homes must be tested – and fixed if positive for lead – before more children are poisoned. Funding is available to fix homes.

Lead hazards are often invisible, and too many landlords and homeowners simply don't know if hazards exist, Haan said. Systems and resources need to be put in place to ensure testing happens, especially in pre-1960 housing.

All homes that test positive need to be fixed. Last fall, Grand Rapids was awarded $2.9 million in HUD funding to fix homes with lead-based paint hazards. Typical “fixes” include new windows and exterior painting or siding. The HUD funding is available to eligible homeowners, landlords and tenants through the Get the Lead Out! program.  

The city of Grand Rapids administers the funding locally. In September of this year, the city expanded program eligibility, making funding available to even more people.

3. Contractors MUST work lead-safe. Outside of these abatement efforts, too many homes are being illegally repaired with uncertified labor when general maintenance or remodeling is being done.

The federal Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP), enacted in 2010 and enforced by the US-EPA in Michigan, requires that all contractors working in pre-1978 be trained, certified and use lead-safe work practices. The number of certified contractors in Michigan has dropped off since the initial years of the program.

A recent report issued by the Trust for America’s Health and a number of large, national foundations stated that, “if the RRP were fully enforced, 211,000 children would be protected from lead poisoning in 2018 alone and the nation would reap $4.5 billion in future benefits or about $3.10 per dollar spent.”

“More labor must be trained and enforcement stepped up. Consumers need to know their rights to have their home repaired in a safe way, and government at all levels must advocate by promoting lead-safe work practices,” said Haan.



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