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Lead poisoning is a very real hazard for children living in pre-1978 housing.  Lead poisoning rates in Kent County, Michigan are twice the national average.

You can learn how to protect your children from lead hazards in the home by signing up for the Lead Hazard Control Program program.  As part of the program, trained staff will conduct a visual assessment of the home, teach you how to collect dust wipe samples for lead, and provide guidance on how to clean-up lead hazards.  The best part is that, thanks to our donors, this is all free to low-to-moderate income families in the Grand Rapids area that live in pre-1978 housing and have children birth through age five. Contact us for more information on checking your home for lead.

More information on testing, home checks, fixes and lead outdoors.

Testing Your Child

Children living in high-risk homes should be tested at one and two years of age. Testing your child is simple, is covered by Medicaid and other insurance programs, and takes just a few minutes.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, your child is “high-risk” if you can answer “yes” to even one of the following questions:

  1. Does your child live in one of Michigan’s 15 high-risk communities? Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Jackson, Lansing, Dearborn, Detroit, Flint, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Pontiac, and Saginaw.
  2. Is your child on Medicaid, MI-Child or WIC?
  3. Are any one of the following conditions true for your child?
  4. Does the child live in or often visit a house, daycare, preschool, home of a relative, etc., built before 1950?
  5. Does the child live in or often visit a house built before 1978 that has been remodeled within the last year?
  6. Does the child have a brother, sister or playmate with lead poisoning?
  7. Does the child live with an adult whose job or hobby involves lead?
  8. Does the child’s family use any home remedies or cultural practices that may contain or use lead?
  9. Is the child included in a special population group; e.g.., foreign adoptee, refugee, immigrant, foster care child?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, your child should be tested at his or her one-year and two-year well-child checkup or WIC visit. If your child is older than two years but less than six, you answered “yes” to any of the questions, and they have not yet been tested, please have your child tested as soon as possible.

If your family has a child under the age of six and you move into a high-risk community, or situations change such that you can answer “yes” to any of the questions in above, your child should be tested again even if they were tested when younger.

If your child’s doctor is reluctant to test your child, click here for a fact sheet from the Michigan Department of Community Health that can be shared with your child’s doctor. This fact sheet describes which children should be tested.

If you have no health insurance or are looking for another option, you may have your child tested at the county public health department. The Kent County Health Department will test at-risk children from Kent County for free. For more information, call (616) 632-7063.

Checking Your Home

More than 90% of all childhood lead poisoning cases in Kent County are caused by deteriorating lead-based paint in older homes. Checking to make sure your house or apartment is lead-safe is the first thing you should do to protect your child from lead poisoning.

Check the exterior of the home for peeling paint. Pay special attention to windows, doors and porches — areas that are known for having lead-based paint.

Check your windows inside and out for peeling paint and paint dust. Windows are “friction surfaces” and can generate a lot of invisible lead dust. Look in the window trough for residue and chips. Clean out the window using soapy water and disposable rags or paper towels. Consider repairing the windows to stabilize the paint and reduce friction, or consider replacement.

Exterior Soil. The dirt outside older houses can have high levels of lead from years of peeling paint and other pollutants. Make sure your child does not play in the bare soil surrounding the house. Plant grass or bushes, cover with mulch, and/or pave walkways to keep children from playing in the dirt.

Shoes off! Make sure dirt (and the lead that may be in it) does not get tracked into your home. Institute a “shoes off at the door” policy.

Play Safe. Watch where your children play indoors and out. Is the paint near where they play in good repair? Does soil get tracked from outdoors into their play area?

Think “LEAD SMART” twice a month. Go through the house and look for possible lead sources like paint chips, dust and soil. Clean high-risk areas like windowsills, entryways, and play areas. Use soapy water in a spray bottle as a cleaning solution and always use disposable rags. Some areas, like entryways, may require more frequent cleaning. Click here to download a guide for cleaning for lead.

THINK “LEAD SMART” when making repairs. As you fix your home, think “Lead Smart” and make it easy to clean. Carpeting, worn-out vinyl, and unfinished wood or plywood flooring can hold on to lead dust. Hard, smooth, durable, easily cleanable surfaces reduce lead risks.

Remodeling can make it worse! Always use “Lead Safe Work Practices” when you work. See the News section of this website for training dates and locations. Consider hiring a trained and state-certified lead contractor when working on high-risk areas. In older housing, always assume paint that has not been tested contains lead and work lead-safe.

The Healthy Homes Coalition offers training on how to collect lead dust samples as part of our Healthy Homes for Healthy Kids program. Additionally, we teach lead-safe cleaning and home repair methods.

If you need further help figuring out where to start or what to do, always feel free to contact the Healthy Homes Coalition.

Fixing Hazards

Making home repairs to fix lead hazards is a job best left to fully trained, state-licensed professionals. However, many homeowners choose to make repairs on their own. If you are considering do-it-yourself repairs, make sure you get training in lead-safe work practices.

Lead-Safe Work Practices training courses are offered through the local Get the Lead Out! collaborative, as well as by others in west Michigan. See the News section of this website for dates and locations.

If you are hiring repairs, be sure to compare at least three bids and talk to the contractors about what they will be doing to make sure your family is protected from lead hazards while and after they work. The Michigan Department of Community Health has some helpful information for parents on its website. To find a contractor, consult the “Lead Removal” section of the yellow pages. Make sure you check each contractor’s certification with the State of Michigan to ensure it is current. The Michigan Department of Community Health also provides a list of currently certified contractors.

There are two primary sources for financing lead hazard repair work in Kent County, Michigan. For more information and eligibility questions, contact one of these organizations:

The Healthy Homes Coalition can assist parents with a visual inspection of their homes for possible sources of lead hazards. For more information on how Healthy Homes can help, go to Our Services page.

If you need further help figuring out where to start or what to do, always feel free to contact the Healthy Homes Coalition.

Lead and Gardens

The most serious source of exposure to soil lead is by eating soil or dust.  Plants do not generally absorb lead, but soil gets on their leaves and roots.

Vegetables with the highest levels of lead are root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots due to the fact that they come into direct contact with the soil.  Some leafy vegetables such as lettuce can also have high levels of lead.

In 2009, the Healthy Homes Coalition tested three community gardens in the city of Grand Rapids for soil lead content. Three had soil above what was then reported to us as the Michigan background levels 21 ppm:

216 ppm (an East Hills community garden)

110 ppm (a Garfield Park community garden)

72 ppm (a Garfield Park community garden)

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that soil lead levels below 400 ppm are not hazardous for children, these are guidelines for children’s play areas, not gardens where food is grown.  No lead is good for children.


How to Protect Your Family

  • Get your soil tested.  While there is not a standard for lead in the soil of gardens, the lower the better. If you are uncomfortable with your soil lead level, consider gardening elsewhere or building a lined, raised bed with lead-free soil.
  • Don’t plant gardens near older housing or garages, where lead levels in the soil tend to be higher.
  • Always wash vegetables before eating.
  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands after gardening.
  • Don’t wear gardening shoes inside the home.
  • Add lime to your soil to maintain soil pH levels above 6.5 to limit lead availability to plants.
  • Add organic matter to your soil to bind the lead.
  • Keep in mind that some kids like to eat dirt, and very young children like to put all kinds of non-food items in their mouths, such as sticks and stones. Limit the unsupervised access that very young children have to soil. Only invite them into the garden when they can be supervised to ensure garden soil and unwashed veggies do not get into their mouths.
  • Download this fact sheet.
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