WEST MICHIGAN, Mich. - A mother in Muskegon is working to tell neighbors about the dangers of paint containing lead. She has taken her concerns to Lansing and offers monthly meetings in Muskegon to anyone wanting to learn more about the impact lead paint has, especially on young children.
Katey Gunderson says her 19-year-old son Brandon's health problems can be traced back to a Grand Rapids home with lead paint. It caused cognitive development delays. Those development delays still have a big impact her son's life everyday.
Gunderson says she had to do something to tell others about what happened to Brandon. So she started the West Michigan Lead-Free Families support group. The group meets monthly in the basement of Muskegon's Hackley Public Library. It's an open group and all community members are welcome to attend.
"I just want to offer my experience as a parent," Gunderson said. "The road can be rough."
The support group has the backing of Muskegon County's Health Department.
"Anyone who has any interest in lead issue would be welcome to attend," said Jon DeMol, Muskegon County Health Department Health Educator.
But both activists were surrounded by empty chairs at April's meeting. It's a reminder to Gunderson and DeMol there's more work to be done to warn their community about the dangers of lead paint.
"Many people just don't realize the scope of the problem," DeMol said. "It's a big problem."
DeMol believes a large number of older homes in Muskegon and Muskegon County still have some lead-based paint in them.
After decades, that paint is most likely flaking and breaking down into dangerous dust. DeMol worries about the impact that dust can have on residents and especially the county's youth.
"Little kids put their hands in their mouths," DeMol said. "They are closer to ground level and the exposure risk is higher."
"No amount of lead is safe in anybody," Gunderson added.
She removed the lead paint from her historic home in Grand Rapids soon after it was discovered, but the damage to her son had been done.
"It wasn't like he was eating paint chips," Gunderson said. "But the dust was on his fingers going in his mouth."
Gunderson moved from Grand Rapids to Muskegon and had a second encounter with lead paint.
"I guess I just didn't think it would be in our next home," Gunderson said.
Grant money was available at the time to help Gunderson remove the lead paint from her Muskegon home. At this time, state and federal grants to remove lead paint from Muskegon County homes have all been depleted.
It's why Gunderson was in Lansing recently asking lawmakers to offer more grant money to local communities to resume the work of removing lead paint.
"It's crucial," Gunderson said. "We need that money to help get the lead out of our city, it needs to be cleaned up, no exposure would be wonderful."
City staff in Muskegon are applying for a new state grant to remove lead paint from homes where children are living, but the city won't know if it will be awarded any funds until October.
Gunderson extends an open invitation to the West Michigan Lead-Free Families group to any community members wanting to learn more about lead.
The group meets next Thursday, May 17, from 1 to 2 p.m.
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Elevated lead blood levels in Ottawa County
In Ottawa County, lead paint is one of the most common causes of elevated blood levels. That was used on homes prior to 1978 but even as the years progressed, the paint remained on a lot of the homes. That paint chipped and could be eaten by kids.
In Holland, city officials say a majority of the houses were built before 1960, most of them standing in the 49423 zip code, which is central Holland.
By the numbers, between 2014-2016 in Ottawa County, 49423 had the largest number of children under the age of 6 with elevated blood lead levels.
Zip code: 49423
- 2014: 729 tested, 37 diagnosed
- 2015: 655 tested, 24 diagnosed
- 2016: 731 tested, 26 diagnosed
Overall Ottawa County had low lead numbers. In 2016, of the roughly 3,000 kids under the age of six they tested, only 57 had high levels of lead.
That's about 1.9 percent of the kids tested.
Elevated lead blood levels in Kent County
Kent County was the fourth worst county in Michigan for percentage of children with elevated blood levels in 2016, according to a report released Monday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Of more than 240,000 housing units in Kent County, around one-third of them are at risk for lead paint hazards, said Doug Stek, Grand Rapids housing rehabilitation supervisor in a county lead task force report.
- Childhood lead poisoning dropped by more than 90 percent since 2001
- But the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels started rising again in 2014
- In 2016, the county tested the blood of 9,984 children – 617, or 6.2 percent, came back with elevated lead levels
- Two-thirds of Kent County’s lead poisoned children came from three Grand Rapids zip codes: 49503, 49507 and 49507
- Zip code 49507 had the most lead-poisoned children of any zip code in Michigan
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