Alexander, Muskegon Chronicle, October 04, 2008
Children with any amount of lead in their blood might suffer
irreversible health effects, a fact that underscores the need to
keep kids from coming in contact with the toxic metal, according
to an expert on the subject.
Dr. Dan Hryhorczuk, a professor of public health at the
University of Illinois-Chicago, told government officials from
Muskegon County communities Friday that they should take all
measures possible to prevent childhood lead exposure.
"There is no safe level of lead in the blood in terms of effects
on the brain," Hryhorczuk said. "Any amount of lead has the
potential to affect neurobehavioral performance."
Hryhorczuk, who directs the University of Illinois-Chicago's
Great Lakes Centers for Occupational and Environmental Safety
and Health, was the featured speaker at the Muskegon Community
Lead Awareness and Public Policy Seminar.
Muskegon and Muskegon Heights are among 14 Michigan communities
where children are considered at high risk of lead poisoning due
to those cities' aging housing stocks. Homes built before 1978,
when the U.S. banned the use of lead paint in residential
structures, are at increased risk of lead poisoning, according
Lead paint chips and dust from lead paint are, by far, the
leading cause of lead poisoning in children. Childhood lead
poisoning costs the nation $43 billion annually, far exceeding
the costs associated with childhood asthma or cancer, Hryhorczuk
Officials at the Muskegon County Health Department have been
working with local communities and groups from other parts of
the state to increase efforts to prevent childhood lead
"This is about not waiting for the child to be poisoned by lead
before we fix the house," said Jill Montgomery-Keast, a public
health quality improvement specialist with the Muskegon County
Health Department. "We want to turn that around. We want to fix
houses (with lead hazards) so we don't have to worry about the
Hryhorczuk said preventing lead poisoning costs much less than
treating children who suffer its ill effects.
The city of Muskegon was awarded a $2.1 million federal grant
last year to remove lead paint hazards from 204 homes. The
houses targeted for work are home to children under age 6 who
have tested for elevated levels of lead.
Excessive lead exposure can lead to a variety of health problems
in young children, including learning disabilities, lower IQs,
delayed development, reduced height and hearing impairment. At
high levels, lead affects the central nervous system, causing
convulsions, coma, and even death.
According to government data, 6,057 homes were built in Muskegon
from 1940 to 1959. Another 4,992 were built prior to 1940. Homes
built prior to 1950 are especially at risk, because more lead
paint was used during that era.
Public health officials say children would not suffer permanent
effects if the concentration of lead in their blood remained
below 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood.
But, Hryhorczuk said recent studies have shown that children
with less than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood
suffer from lower IQs. New research also found that it is nearly
impossible to remove lead from a child's body once it gets in
the brain or bones.
"We were thinking that anything below 10 was sort of OK because
10 was the level of concern," Hryhorczuk said.
Last year, 53 children in Muskegon County had lead levels above
10 micrograms per deciliter of blood, down from 194 a decade
ago, according to government data.
"We're headed in the right direction," said Paul Haan, executive
director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
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