MDHHS lowers acceptable blood-lead level in children

NOW: MDHHS lowers acceptable blood-lead level in children

BENTON HARBOR, Mi. -- Following new CDC guidelines, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has lowered the testing standard of lead contamination in children, from 5 micrograms per deciliter to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. 

This will allow more people to qualify for lead-case management from the Berrien County Health Department. 

“Starting May 1st, anyone with a detection over 3.5 micrograms per deciliter will be investigated," said Acting Health Officer Guy Miller, with the Health Department.

This comes eight months after Benton Harbor showed an actionable level of lead in its drinking water-- leading people to rely solely on bottled water until all lead service lines have been replaced or verified lead-free. 

Crews are currently replacing an average of eighteen service lines a day. 

Scott Dean, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), said “As of this morning, the crews have replaced thirty-six percent of the lead-service lines in the city with copper pipes, and that’s a tremendous improvement over the winter, and we’re hopeful to see this trend continue.”

The state still hopes to have all the service lines replaced by Spring 2023.

Despite the progress, the Berrien County Health Department said that residents should still be cautious of possible lead contaminants-- like paint and contaminated soil. 

“Any house built before 1978 is at risk of having lead paint," said Miller. "One of the things you really need to watch out for is if that paint is chipping, and if you’ve got little ones crawling on their hands and knees, they’re more prone to collecting dust and putting those dirty fingers into their mouth.”

If a blood test shows a lead level higher than 3.5 micrograms, they can have a lead-case management nurse come to determine the cause. 

The Berrien County Health Department said it could see an uptick in contamination cases, though Dr. Laura Fink from InterCare told ABC57 that they've seen very few recent cases caused by lead paint or contaminated water. 

Even so, Miller believes that raising standards over time will make targeting sources of lead contamination easier and benefit the community in the long run. 

“We’re having higher expectations of what we can allow in this community and our counties," he said. "We keep setting the bar a little higher for everyone, and as we’re seeing fewer people meet those really really high lead levels—which is a very good thing, it means we’re managing things well—we can lower the bar, and try to include more people into that until we eventually get to the point where we have minimal blood-lead levels, especially in our children.”

Miller added that anyone needing to have their child's blood tested should speak to a pediatrician, or go to Beaumont Spectrum Health Lakeland or InterCare. 

The Berrien County Health Department also offers in-house testing through the WIC program. 

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