December 19, 2015
Detroit’s ambitious demolition program, which has been razing thousands of unsightly and unsafe houses and other structures per year to fanfare and criticism, may be replacing one danger in neighborhoods with another: toxic clouds of lead dust from old paint.
The city, which already has one of the country’s worst rates of blood-lead poisoning in children, also has some of the oldest housing stock of any major U.S. city. And most of the houses being taken down contain lead-based paint, which the nation banned in 1978.
“I totally agree that the houses need to come down,” said Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University and a leading city advocate on combating lead contamination. “I just wish they would come down in a way that’s more protective of Detroit’s kids in the long run.”
“There is no safe level,” said Felicia Rabito, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. “Lead is not supposed to be in our body. … This is a known neurotoxin. It’s known to affect children’s brains, their development, many other organ systems.”
Lead has another societal impact, Thompson noted: Lead-poisoned children lose the capacity to control their impulses, a problem that continues into adulthood. “That’s what leads to juvenile delinquency and crime later in life,” he said.