New Kent County action team tackles lead exposure

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Shantal Ferrells’ education on childhood lead poisoning began when she and her family moved into a rental house in Grand Rapids.

Like many older homes in the city built before 1978, the home had lead paint.

Sometime after they moved in, she found her then 4-year-old daughter was poisoned by the lead dusk that comes off the peeled paint chips.

“It was kind of like a hopeless feeling. Because at the time, there weren’t as many things in place to take action against the landlord,” Ferrell said.

Now, she’s turning her frustration into action.

Ferrell’s been appointed as a member to the newly formed Kent County Lead Action Team.

The team will focus on identifying homes and neighborhoods at risk, getting rid of lead paint and educating parents on what to look for and what to do if their kids have been exposed.

The city of Grand Rapids, the Kent County Health Department and private organizations like the Healthy Home Coalition have programs in place to fight lead exposure and help with healthy home conditions.

The newly formed Lead Action Team brings those resources together.

“The word action is in the title for a reason. We want to take action,” said Kent County Board Chair Mandy Bolter. “But I don’t think this is going to be a short process. I think this is going to be a long hall.”

While the number of elevated lead blood level cases has decreased significantly over the decades, kids in the Grand Rapids area are still being poisoned. 

“We’ve worked hard on this issue for a very long time,” Grand Rapid Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “We’ve seen those number decrease, but even one child poisoned in our community is one child too many.”

For many, childhood lead poisoning is a problem in places like Flint where corroded water pipes contaminated the city’s drinking water.

But in 2014, studies found that there were more children poisoned by lead paint in the 49507 zip code on Grand Rapids’ south side than in all of Flint.

“It kind of was a wakeup call for our community,” Bolter said.

And not just in the city limits.

The screening process may have left out some children, as private health insurance plans don’t automatically screen children for lead.

“It’s not just an issue that lives in the city, even though we see a lot of children in the city poisoned by lead. This is a county wide issue. And it really needs a multi-jurisdictional response,” Bliss said.

It also has generated a more targeted approach.

The team has identified 427 homes in Kent County where multiple children with elevated blood levels once lived.

 So, the health department has begun reaching out to them for screening. 

“We have 82 that are at some process, some phase in the process of investigation and mitigation,” said Dr. Adam London, Kent County Health Department’s administrative health officer.

For Ferrell,  joining the Lead Action Team is a chance for others to avoid the same challenges her daughter had to endure.

“She’s still a smart kid, but you can tell the effects of what it has done.” Ferrell said.

More information about the Lead Action Team and lead issues can be found on the county’s website.

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