GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Larissa was only a year old when elevated levels of lead were found in her blood.

“I still didn’t know enough about it until all these years later and I’m thinking to myself she might not have not risen to her full potential if this hadn’t been taken care of,” her mother Lyree Adams of Grand Rapids said.

Lead exposure in children can cause developmental disorders. After the crisis in Flint, most people think of tainted water from old pipes as the source of exposure; but in Grand Rapids, it’s usually lead-based paint. In Larissa’s case, it was the windows.

“The dust from the windows, lifting and closing the windows, was creating a dust and she was crawling at the time, putting her hands in her mouth,” Adams explained.

Adams and her family were able to get windows replaced at their apartment and her daughter’s blood lead levels are now zero. Larissa, now 12, is healthy.

But lead is still a problem in Grand Rapids, particularly in zip code 49507. That area code has been plagued by lead exposure for years.

A report released Thursday by the Kent County Lead Task Force says the number of childhood lead poisoning cases in that zip code increased 40 percent in just two years. It led the state in the number of cases in 2015 and 2016.

>>PDF: 2018 lead exposure report

“I think it is horrifying and I’m scared for our youth because it causes so much damage that’s irreversible,” Adams said.

It’s a problem that Paul Haan, the executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, says is perpetuated with a lack of affordable housing and safe practices during construction. 

“From 2015 to ’16, testing did go up slightly, but the percentage of kids with high tests still continue to climb,” Haan said.

Haan says now it’s time to figure out why the number of cases is rising.

He added there are things you can do to help protect your family.

“Maintaining those old windows or replacing them if they’ve outlived their lifespan is one sure fire way to clean up a lot of lead,” he said. 

Kent County Commissioner Carol Hennessy said community leaders are working on a targeted effort to combat the continuing problem.

“It’s going to be very, very broad based in terms of education,” she said. “and then we will be working on health policy to get more doctors to actually test the blood levels of children.”
The Kent County Lead Task Force will present its findings to the Kent County Commission at March 22 meeting. Recommendations will be made to the Community Advisory Committee to start working on a plan to address the issue.