GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - If there is one "good" thing that came out of the Flint water crisis, community leaders in Grand Rapids say it is shining a light on the problem of lead poisoning in other communities.
“They awoke the sleeping giant,” says Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. “What we have seen in the past few months is people have pretty close to no tolerance for kids getting poisoned by lead. Whether it’s water in Flint or paint in Grand Rapids.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says 610 Kent County children 0-5 years of age tested positive for lead poisoning in 2015.
But not because of their water. They were poisoned by the lead paint in and on their homes.
“It’s a significant problem,” says Haan. “Two thirds of the city’s housing stock has lead based paint on it. “We have to get that paint out in order to keep the kids safe.”
Children who live in homes with lead paint on the walls get it on their hands while crawling on the floor. Or they peel a paint chip from the wall and eat it.
It doesn’t take much to poison a small child
“My daughter will be 4 in June,” says mother Julia Jackson of Grand Rapids. Her daughter has lead poisoning. “For her to be 4 years old and not talking how she is supposed to, I actually want to cry right now.”
Haan says attention to the lead poisoning crisis in Flint could bring more resources and determination to eliminating the threat everywhere.
“Why spend this time and energy to fix the problem in Flint just to let it continue across the state,” he asks. “Deal with the Flint problem first, but to stop there and not give structural solutions that solve this once and for all in Michigan would be foolishness.”