Throughout time, it has been shown through the literature that children who are low income are usually unduly exposed to lead due to the neighborhoods and homes that they reside in. It has been shown that members of minorities or economically disadvantaged groups are more at risk to have higher blood lead levels than white, affluent groups. This is in part due to the housing disparities, where the more affluent have more access to a variety of housing options while low-income are usually stuck to affordable housing that are usually older, and contain lead based paint (Leech, Adams, Weathers, Staten, & Filippelli, 2016).
The groups that are most vulnerable from lead exposure are the children living in unsafe housing. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the United States for the year 2007-2010, 7.7% of African-Americans children (ages 1-2) had blood lead levels that are higher than 5 µg/dL in comparison to 3.2% of White children.
One perfect example of how minority children, in particular African-American children, are disproportionately burdened to higher blood lead levels are the children living in the Detroit, Michigan.
Many consider Detroit as a “shrinking city” . Urban decay is running rampant throughout the city showing the decline of Detroit. Xie et al. found that urban vacancy was rapidly increasing in Detroit, as people moved from the urban center to the suburbs. According to the Neighborhood Change Database of 2010, the “median vacancy rate over the census tracts within the city of Detroit is 26.6%”. However, the most impacted due to this move were African-Americans and other minorities, as they tend to live in the inner city.
This disproportionate number of African-Americans living in the inner city is due to historical trends established in the past. Whites moved away from the inner city as more and more African-Americans moved from the South to Detroit in the 1940s-1970s. The creation of more and more highways made it possible for the spread of suburbanization and the establishment of good quality public schools in the suburbs motivated Whites to stay. African-Americans, on the other hand, usually did not have the opportunity to move away due to economic constraints, which forced them to remain in an area where jobs and other opportunities were disappearing rapidly. Now, in 2018, we can clearly see racial and economic segregation in Detroit.
Michigan ranks fifth in the United States on having children experience lead poisoning . In regards to air pollution, Detroit has high air pollution as it is home to 5 out of 25 most polluted zipcodes in Michigan. It also has high particulate matter. Clean water has been a problem in Detroit as 26 billion gallons of untreated sewage went into Detroit’s rivers. Another environmental concern is waste as only 7% of waste in Detroit is recycled. These are the environmental conditions of Detroit.
According to the United States Census Bureau (2017) the population of Detroit is 673,104. This number represents the steady decline of population in Detroit that has occured since the 1950s. In 1950, Detroit boasted a population of 1.8 million but now almost 60% of the population of Detroit have left, with 25% of it being attributed to the past 10 years (Neill, 2015). The racial composition of Detroit consists of two main races- African-Americans which account for 79.7% of the population in Detroit, and Whites, which account for 13.6% (US Census Bureau, 2017). As for the age distribution of Detroit, 31.1% of the population is under 18, 9.7% is between 18-24, 29.5% is 25-44, 19.3% is between 45-64, and 10.4% is 65 and older. With children making up almost ⅓ of the population in Detroit, it is important to show how the environment is impacting them. Overall, 39.4% of the population lives in poverty in Detroit . The median household income in Detroit is of $26,249. African-Americans average household income is $25,400 which is below the median household income. Meanwhile, Whites’ average household income is $30,800, which is above the average household income (Statistical Atlas, 2018). The unemployment rate for African-Americans in Detroit is 15.2% for the ages 16-64 while for Whites it is 8.48%. For educational attainment, only 14.4% of African-American women hold a bachelors degree while 27.2% of White women have a bachelor’s degree. Lastly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three top occupations for the city of Detroit are Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities.
African-American children living in Detroit have higher blood lead levels than White children due to their unduly exposure to lead. A study conducted by Moody, Darden, and Pigozzi (2016) found that African-American children who lived in neighborhoods with low SES had higher blood lead levels than White children. However, if African-American children live in high SES neighborhoods, then they have lower blood lead levels than White children residing in low income neighborhoods. This demonstrates that part of this disproportionate burden is due to socioeconomic status.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, lead exposure in childhood increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease on the long run. Detroit has a high prevalence of heart disease mortality for African-Americans in comparison to the United States average (Udow-Phillips, 2014). For Detroit, there were 318 deaths out of 10,000 while the average of the United States is 179 deaths per 10,000. Heart disease has also been reported as the #1 leading cause of death in Detroit.
There are several health issues that affects African-American children that differs from others nationally. The first health issue is that African-American children in parts of Detroit are more exposed to particulate matter due to traffic than surrounding cities (Wu and Batterman as cited in Moody & Grady, 2017). Asthma is another health condition in which African-American children is most affected by. The city of Detroit had one of the highest prevalence of asthma for children in all of Michigan with 42.8%. African-American children and adults are 3X as likely to have asthma than White children and adults. 30.1% of African-American children have asthma while only 7.7% of White children have asthma (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 2016).
There are several influencing environmental and social factors that influence blood lead levels in African-American children in Detroit. One factor that contributes to this disproportionate burden is the aging housing stock in Detroit. In Detroit, lead paint base was not banned until 1978. Besides this problem, about 90% of the houses in Detroit were constructed before 1980 with 62% built before 1950 (Zhang, Baker, Tufts, Raymond, Salihu, & Elliott, 2013). In metropolitan Detroit, in particular, there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans living in low socioeconomic urban neighborhoods while Whites live in more affluent, suburban areas (Moody, Darden, & Pigozzi, 2016).
Another environmental factor that contributes to elevated blood lead levels in children is the different industries that releases lead into the air in Detroit. Historically, polluting industries such as coal burning power plants, coking operations, iron and steel manufacturing, oil refining, smelting, and waste incinerations all have established themselves in close proximity to low-income, African-American communities in Detroit. This practice continues to this day. The main culprits of lead emitters in Detroit and surrounding areas are General Motors Hamtramck, Severstal Dearborn, and Detroit Edison Co, Trenton Channel. General Motors Hamtramck released 2000.11 kg of lead emission, Severstal Dearborn released 889.60 kg, and Detroit Edison Co released 639.6 kg (Moody & Grady, 2017).
A social factor that contributes to the disproportionate burden on African-American children in having higher blood lead levels is the educational level of parents. An early study conducted by Talbott et al. (1982) has shown this to be true as children who resided in households headed by mothers who had lower income and lower education levels had higher blood lead levels. It has been shown that African-American children are unduly exposed to lead even when they are in utero. A study conducted by Cassidy-Bushrow et al. (2017) found that “African-American children had 2.2 times higher lead levels in the second and third trimesters and 1.9 times higher lead levels postnatally in the first year of life compared to white children” (pg. 2). This was in part due because of the mothers’ SES and where they reside. As stated before, only 14.4% of African-American women hold a bachelor’s degree. In the African-American community, 32% of the households are single parent headed by the mother. This increases the chance of African-American children to be exposed to higher concentration of lead since there is an unfortunate trend that households headed by single mothers tend to lead to poverty. Due to this resulting poverty, African-American mothers are driven to live on cheap housing which could have lead coated painting.
According to Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (2016), 14.6% of African-Americans have no health coverage and 26.3% rely on Medicaid for their health care needs. This survey also indicated that 15.1% of African Americans in Michigan had no health care access for a year because of the cost. This is in comparison to Whites, which 11.8% had no health care access for a year because of the cost.
A disproportionate burden has been placed in African-American children living in Detroit. They are unduly exposed to lead, which leads them to have higher blood lead levels than White children who live in the suburbs. It has been shown that this disproportionate burden has been made possible due to social and economic inequalities, such as housing and employment opportunities, that has been fostering throughout time in Detroit. Something should be done to help dissipate this disproportionate burden.
There are several ways that we can help decrease elevated blood lead levels in African-American children in Detroit. One recommendation in how to decrease elevated blood lead levels is to eliminate the remaining lead based paint in older homes in Detroit. This is being accomplished by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Lead Safe Homes Program. This program is for low to middle income tenants and rental owners who live in a house that was built before 1978. What this program does is to provide free lead inspection and free lead safety work such as installing new doors, windows, and painting. In order to qualify for these services, there must be children under 19 living with you or a pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid and must live in Detroit/Flint or have a child with a blood lead level higher than 5 µg/dL. Another initiative that was done in the city of Detroit was the Property Maintenance Ordinance Code- Amendment made in October 31, 2017. In this ordinance, landlords cannot collect rent from their tenants unless they have a certificate of compliance. A certificate of compliance can only be obtained if all lead issues of the rented property have been solved. Another recommendation is to educate African-American parents about the dangers that lead pose for their children.
For children who are at risk for lead poisoning, the Detroit Health Department sends nurses and lead advocates to their homes where they inform parents about where the possible lead exposures are and free/low cost programs to remove lead from their homes. Last recommendation is to hold air emitting companies accountable for the hazard they are posing for the communities that are around them. If they do not take the appropriate steps in reducing lead emissions, they should be fined or closed down until they do so. One policy that helps decrease the risk of high lead levels in African-American children is Subpart F of the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program. Subpart F, named Disclosure of Known Lead-Based Paint Hazards Upon Sale or Lease of Residential Property, states that the landlord has to tell potential tenants if the rental property has any lead based paint or hazards before renting it out. Other criteria under this policy is to hand possible tenants an informational pamphlet on lead, and a 10 day opportunity for the potential renter to have a risk assessment done to the property. This policy can help reduce high blood lead levels in children by making it be known to African-American families housing that contains lead and thus they will be able to make a more informed decision about where they will reside. This is the different recommendations in how to reduce blood lead levels in African-American children in Detroit.