GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Legislation signed this month aims to help identify whether toddlers in Michigan have been exposed to lead.

Lead has long been a problem in Michigan, one Grand Rapids and Kent County are no strangers to.

“Water gets a lot of publicity, but actually, our No. 1 source of lead poisoning is actually lead paint,” Drew Salisbury, supervising sanitarian with the Kent County Health Department, said.

Four out of five homes in Grand Rapids and nearly three of five in Kent County were built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned. According to a 2018 report from the Kent County Lead Task Force, around 83,000 of all Kent County housing units are considered at risk for lead paint hazards.

“Deteriorated paint that turns into small little dust particles, it can be in the homes, on the floor, window seals, or exposed soils out in the yard,” Salisbury explained.

To address the problem, the Kent County Health Department offers a quick or in-depth home investigation surrounding lead, based on referrals. Salisbury said the results determine how lead exposure can be limited.

“It can be as simple as painting over a surface, encapsulating it, to a full lead abatement where the sources of the lead are removed,” Salisbury said.

Communities across the state will soon have a new tool to see how serious the problem is locally. Beginning Jan. 1, doctors in Michigan will be required to test 1- and 2-year-olds for lead exposure. Parents will be allowed to opt out.

“Currently, a lot of our lead testing on the clinical side is done in a Medicaid or (Women, Infants & Children) clinic. So we’re missing a large population that’s not covered by that service,” Salisbury said.

According to state data, 108,080 children under the age of 6 were tested for lead in 2022 and 3.7% had elevated blood lead levels, which can pose some serious health risks.

“It’s been a known neurotoxin for a long time. It can cause developmental delays. It can cause a large variety of health issues,” Salisbury said.

Sponsors of the bill said it will help ensure children get the treatment they need. Salisbury said it may help the Kent County Health Department identify lead problems outside of Grand Rapids, which is where a majority of the county’s elevated blood lead level cases are found.

“This will truly give us a great picture of what’s going on countywide,” Salisbury said.

As more kids are tested, Salisbury said he expects to see more home investigation referrals. The health department is planning to add more sanitarian staff and health educators.

“We know we can’t inspect every home but if we can build awareness and get an education campaign, we can encapsulate a larger part of the population,” Salisbury said.

The legislation also requires 4-year-olds to be tested if they live in an area at higher risk of lead poisoning. The testing will be documented on a child’s immunization record.