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The original item was published from 1/24/2019 4:38:00 PM to 1/25/2019 2:07:27 PM.

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Health News

Posted on: January 23, 2019

[ARCHIVED] Lead, Water, and Health

BH Water

What is lead and why is it a problem?

Lead is a highly toxic metal.  It was commonly used in:

  • Household paint (banned in 1978) Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint.
  • Gasoline (banned in 1995)
  • Plumbing pipes and fixtures 

People can be exposed to lead through a variety of sources, including paint, dust, soil, air, and drinking water.  Children under the age of 6, pregnant women and their unborn children are the most at risk due to the negative health effects of lead. Children exposed to lead can develop behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia; pregnant women exposed to lead could experience slowed growth of their unborn baby and premature birth. 

In Michigan, a blood lead level (BLL) of five (5) micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated. Most people who have an elevated blood lead level do not look or act sick. A blood lead test is the only way to determine a blood lead level. Talk with your doctor about getting a lead test for you or your child if you believe you have been exposed to lead or you are at risk of lead exposure. 

Should I have my child tested for lead?

Children under the age of 6 are at the highest risk for elevated blood lead levels. Lead can harm a child's growth, behavior, and ability to learn. Lead exposure happens when children come in contact with lead, generally from lead-based paint, or possibly from lead plumbing supplying drinking water. A simple blood test can determine the level of lead in your child's blood. Contact your family doctor or the Berrien County Health Department to ask about getting a lead test for your child if you believe they may have been at risk of lead exposure.

What does the data show about children with elevated blood lead levels?

The Berrien County Health Department keeps track of elevated blood lead levels in at-risk children under the age of 6 in all Berrien County communities. Recent data has shown a decrease in elevated blood lead levels for children in Berrien County as well as those in the Benton Harbor zip code 49022. 


Percentage of At-Risk Children Under Age 6 With Elevated Blood Lead Levels
(above 5 μg/dL)

2011201220132014201520162017
Berrien County5.2%5.3%3.8%3.0%3.8%3.5%2.8%
49022 Zip Code8.0%8.3%5.2%4.0%3.4%4.4%3.0%


Is Lead poisoning preventable?

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.  Lead hazards in a child’s environment, such as lead-based paint or lead plumbing, must be identified and removed safely. Children who are at risk for lead poisoning need to be tested and, if necessary, treated.

What is the Berrien County Health Department doing?

The Berrien County Health Department monitors elevated blood lead levels in at-risk children around Berrien County. Our public health nurses provide individualized case management, education, and resources for families who have children with elevated blood lead levels to help them identify lead exposure risks and create a healthy home.

Where can I go to find more information?

Benton Harbor water customers: For more information on water testing, water system questions, and how to determine if you have a lead service line, please see the City of Benton Harbor Website

All other Berrien County residents are encouraged to contact their municipal water authority for more information regarding their particular water system. 


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