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Lead abatement bills get first hearing in House committee

When peeling paint has this pattern, it's a sure sign that the paint contains lead. On a window sill, the up and down movement releases lead dust inside a home. It can be harmful to small children.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
When peeling paint has this pattern, it's a sure sign that the paint contains lead. On a window sill, the up and down movement releases lead dust inside a home. It can be harmful to small children.

Michigan bills to lower the threshold for what’s considered an “elevated blood lead level” in children appeared before the state House Health Policy Committee Thursday.

Current law requires health officials to get involved when blood levels rise above 10 micrograms per deciliter -- a level equivalent to 100 parts per billion.

The package would cut that to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, or use standards provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services or CDC, if either is lower.

Dr. Cheryl Dickson, of the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, said catching lead exposure early is crucial.

“It’s not going to be readily apparent until it’s really a higher level and that’s when it’s too late. And that’s the key," Dickson said during her testimony.

The legislation would also require children to be referred to the Michigan Department of Education’s Early On program. That’s a system set up to support families of children with developmental delays from birth through age 3.

After testimony, a question came up over how much the extra enrollment would cost the state.

Committee Chair Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) said it was hard to estimate because of a new laws expanding lead testing opportunities for young children.

“I anticipate that we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the number of children that test positive because we’ll be increasing the number of tests,” Rogers said.

Another bill in the package would aim to prevent lead dust exposure during renovation and repair projects.

It would do so by placing new training and certification requirements on renovators, creating new ways to have a building listed a state registry of properties with lead-based hazards, and increasing state oversight and penalties.

Representative Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) sponsors that bill. She noted much of the conversation around lead exposure to kids has focused on water because of high profile cases, like the Flint crisis.

“[T]here continues to be a lot of confusion and misalignment of our responses when, in fact, more children — significantly more children — are poisoned as a result of lead dust in their homes than are poisoned as a result of exposure to lead through water systems,” Hood said.

The bill would also expand the amount of time the state health department has to issue fines under the lead abatement section of the public health code.

Erika Farley is with the Rental Property Owner’s Association of Michigan. She cited the change as one reason her group opposes Hood’s bill, in particular.

“It’s going from 180 days to five years. That seems like kind of a huge jump in our estimation and hopes that if there is an issue that, yes, we would want that noted and taken care of immediately as opposed to waiting that long,” Farley said.

Farley went on to list other concerns, including certain definitions she believed should be added to the legislation, and the cost of compliance.

“This is not about not wanting lead dust testing, this is not about not wanting to make sure children are safe throughout the State of Michigan. This is about making sure what we do do here is actually viable,” Farley said.

But Hood said preventing child lead exposure in the home is worth the price.

“When we compare that cost compared to the cost of dealing with the developmental delays or the health issues, this is a bargain,” Hood said.

Thursday’s committee meeting adjourned without reporting the bills out, meaning they could see another hearing or more changes before making their way to the full House of Representatives.

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