About Lead

Lead is a home health and safety hazard that can harm a child’s brain, causing lifelong learning and behavior problems. When lead dust is ingested or inhaled, even in miniscule amounts, it can cause significant and irreversible brain damage as well as other health problems. Lead dust equivalent of only three granules of sugar can begin to poison a child.1 Homes built before 1978 have a good chance of containing lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning.2

Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 94% of all houses in Detroit were built before 1980, when lead-based paint stopped being sold in the United States.3
  • Detroit is one of the worst cities in the country when it comes to lead poisoning. Although only 20% of Michigan’s children younger than 5 years lived in Detroit in 2010, childhood lead poisoning in Detroit has consistently accounted for more than 50% of the state’s total lead burden.4
  • In 1998, 15,769 children under 6 tested in Detroit had elevated levels of lead in their blood. In 2012 this number was 2,755 children.5
  • In 2012, 7,560 children under 6 tested statewide had elevated levels of lead in their blood.6


In children, the main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia7

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.7

Lead poisoning can also result in:

  • Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, disorganization, aggression, and increase risk of delinquency
  • Headaches, loss of appetite, agitation, clumsiness, or somnolence8

A lead poisoned child is:

  • 7 times more likely to drop out of high school9
  • For every 5 μg/dl increase in blood lead levels at six years of age, the risk of being arrested for a violent crime as a young adult increased by almost 50%.10
  • 50% more likely to do poorly on the MEAP8

More than half of the students tested in Detroit Public Schools have a history of lead poisoning, which affects brain function for life, according to data compiled by city health and education officials. About 60% of DPS students who performed below their grade level on 2008 standardized tests had elevated lead levels.9

Groups of children that have been followed from womb to adulthood show that higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes.11

Gain Control: Actions You Can Take

To help prevent health and safety risks due to lead, see below for suggested actions you can take1,2:

  • Children should be tested for lead poisoning at one and two years of age or more often depending on their contact with sources of lead.
  • Wash your child’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.  Make sure your child is not chewing on anything covered with lead paint.
  • Have your home checked for lead hazards. Test the soil your child plays in.
  • Keep floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces dust and dirt free.  Clean weekly using a mop, sponge, or paper towl with wamr water and a general all-purpose cleaner or cleaner made specifically for lead.
  • Take off shoes when entering the house to avoid brining lead dust into your home from work or a hobby.
  • Talk to your landlord about fixing peeling or chipping paint.
  • Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating.
  • Learn how to remove lead-based paint safely by reading the EPA’s Renovate Right guide.

Local Resources for Detroit Residents

For contact information of partner organizations that might be able to provide help with lead hazards in your home, visit our Get Help page.

If you would like to make a complaint about a Lead Inspector/Risk Assessor or firm please follow this link and find the complaint submission form at the bottom of the page. Complaint Submission Form


1Olden, K., PhD. “Environmental Risks to the Health of American Children.” Preventative Medicine 22 (1993): 576-578.
2United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). http://www2.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family#sl-home
3U.S. Census Bureau Selected Housing Characteristics, 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Detroit city, Michigan (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_5YR_DP04)
4Zhang, N., PhD, Baker, H., MPH, Tufts, M., MPH, Raymond, R., MS, Salihu, H., MD, PhD, and Elliott, M., PhD. “Early Childhood Lead Exposure and Academic Achievement: Evidence From Detroit Public Schools, 2008–2010.” American Journal of Public Health 103.3 (2013): 72-77.
5Robert Scott, Michigan Department of Community Health (2013).
6Michigan Department of Community Health Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program 2012 Data Report on Blood Lead Testing and Elevated Levels, Childhood Lead Poisoning Data Facts All Counties in Michigan — Calendar Year 2012 — Children less than Six Years of Age: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/2012AnnualDataReportOnBloodLeadLevels_419508_7.pdf
7United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). http://www2.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead#lead
8Zubrzycki, J. “Lead-Exposure Problems Spotlighted in Detroit.” Education Weekly Vol. 32, Issue 5 (2012): 6-9.
9Lam, T. and Tanner-White, K. “High lead levels hurt learning for DPS kids.” Detroit Free Press (May 16, 2010).
10Wright, J., Dietrich, K., Ris, M., Hornung, R., Wessel, S., Lanphear, B., Ho, M., and Rae M. “Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood.” PLOS Medicine (May 27, 2008).
11Drum, K. “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” Mother Jones (Jan. 3, 2013).