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Matthew Davis discusses short- and long-term benefits of investments in lead abatement

April 24, 2014

Ford School Professor Matthew Davis, who serves as chief medical executive for the State of Michigan, joined Michigan Radio on April 23 to discuss the continuing public health threat that lead poising poses to children in Michigan, and especially Detroit, where lead paint remains prevalent. Scientists have shown that lead poising is connected to diminishing intelligence, behavior problems, and even an increase in the likelihood of serving time in prison.

Removing or effectively covering lead paint can be expensive, leaving the poorest communities the most at-risk. And because the symptoms of lead poisoning are difficult to spot, says Davis, it's critically important that children, particularly those in low-income communities, receive routine blood tests. Ten years ago, more than 30 percent of Michigan children exceeded the lead threshold used by the Centers for Disease Control; today, that number is less than 5 percent. While this news is promising, Davis explains that testing rates have declined and, even at the peak of testing, most children were not tested. The main goal, therefore, has to be reducing lead exposure.

"Just last year, the state Legislature contributed more money toward the efforts for lead abatement," says Davis. "That is a critical step forward in terms of trying to do more in Michigan to try to protect children from the hazards of lead poisoning." Governor Snyder's current budget also proposes additional money for lead abatement, but the amount is far less than what is needed.

With the expected reduction in school discipline problems, enrollment in special education classes, crime, and prison populations from a reduction in lead exposure, researchers claim that anywhere between $17 and $50 could be saved in taxes for each dollar spent. "There are very few public health interventions that offer that great combination of short-term benefits that are measurable, as well as long-term gains," Davis says. Lead abatement is one.

For more information on the subject, listen to the full story on Michigan Radio.

Matthew Davis is also a Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. For more information on the Ford School's dual degree program with the Medical School, see the program overview.