Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 28, 2014

Another View: We must take lead on ending lead poisoning

We see the scenario again and again — invest now and pay less later.

It’s the economics at the heart of our state’s recent investments in early education. Ignoring these forces is a key reason the state’s roads are in such terrible shape. And for thousands of Michigan’s children, it’s the means to finally ending the silent but pernicious effects of lead poisoning on our most vulnerable residents.

A study by the University of Michigan released last week found that remediating 100,000 of the homes in Michigan most at risk for having lead paint would cost about $600 million, but taxpayers quickly recoup the expense.

The U-M’s Risk Science Center estimates that overall effects of lead poisoning result in more than $330 million in costs a year — and $145 million of that is from tax dollars.

It’s easy to think of children being the victims, but those children grow up and their chances at successful livelihoods are reduced because of lead exposure. To that end, the study measures short and midterm costs like testing, treatment and special-education classes ($21 million). It takes a long view, as well, measuring the cost of juvenile and adult crime associated with childhood lead exposure ($105 million). Looking even further out, the study measures the loss of lifelong earnings for kids with the irreversible declines in IQ that are associated with lead exposure, which in a given year adds up to $206 million.

In Michigan, the problem of lead paint in homes is at its worst in Detroit and Wayne County. But this is not just a Detroit issue, says Lyke Thompson, who has been fighting for dollars to clean up lead-infested homes for decades. He’s the director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University. Outside of Detroit, trouble spots include Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Muskegon, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor, according to the state’ Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

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