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Health

Following CDC guidance, Michigan tightens standards for lead in blood

flint lead test
Steve Carmody
/
Michigan Radio
A child is tested for lead in Flint.

Michigan is lowering the threshold for what’s considered elevated lead levels in children, following recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter. The CDC just lowered the standard for what’s considered elevated in children from 5 micrograms per deciliter to 3.5.

Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is committed to using “the best available” science when it comes lead.

“We don't want to be out of date. We don't want to be less protective,” Groetsch said. “CDC is encouraging the new standard. They’re not mandating it. They're like, here's the best science. And we look at and say, well, we want to use the best science.”

Groetsch said that as of last year, 2% to 3% of Michigan kids who were tested showed elevated levels of lead under the old 5 milliliter standard. With the new standard, it’s more like 3% to 6%. “So it roughly maybe doubles the number of kids [where] we’d say, you know what, we probably could help them get away from some lead,” he said.

Those children and their families will now be eligible for services and interventions meant to abate lead in the household environment and mitigate negative health and developmental effects. Those services include nursing case management, home environmental lead investigations, and lead abatement.

Lead is a neurotoxin known to affect children’s development, and there’s actually no safe level of it in blood.

MDHHS says the standard, known as the blood lead reference value (BLRV), is “used to identify children with higher levels of lead in their blood compared to most children in the United States."

"The BLRV is not health-based but is used as a tool to identify children who need public health services and further medical evaluation. It is also used to prioritize communities that need interventions to reduce lead exposure,” the health department says.

Children can be exposed to lead through paint in older housing, soil, dust, and water from lead pipes.

State data show that the number of Michigan children with elevated blood lead levels under the old 5 milliliter standard has declined sharply over the past decade, from 6.3% in 2010, to 2.4% in 2020. However, MDHHS acknowledged that fewer children were tested for lead in 2020 and 2021 compared to past years, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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