Map: Elevated Blood Lead Levels and DLBA Home Sales

Lead poisoning has been a significant issue in Detroit for decades and well before the Flint water crisis because Detroit is full of old housing that has not been maintained or upgraded due to a confluence of job loss and economic austerity. While I worked at the Detroit Health Department, the question of what to do about lead poisoning was constant and always underfunded (Lead Report 2016). I led the Demolitions and Health Taskforce until it was disbanded as well where we found clustered and repeated demolition exposure was highly likely to be elevating blood lead levels of children.

It was as if lead poisoning was too well known and not known enough all at the same time. Our lead advocates and nurses always had a massive case load of children to follow-up with and never had enough time or staff to reach everyone. Some colleagues and I wondered if the tax foreclosure pipeline was a contributing factor to unsafe housing being snapped up by slumlords. We titled out findings ‘Toxic Structures” and found that investor ownership through property speculation meant a greater risk of childhood lead exposure.

The recent reporting from Outlier Media on the 13,300 home sales from the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) auctions and “own it now” program are alarming. Most homes are sold as-is with no lead remediation whatsoever. Some of the largest clusters of these home sales are in the ZIP codes with the highest rates of children with lead poisoning. With such a well-known problem, Detroit simply puts its children at greater risk without addressing the need. There is no safe level of lead and these programs that ignore the problem amount to negligence.

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