Detroit demolition

Razing may create problem with lead-tainted dust

DETROIT (AP) — The nation’s largest home-demolition program, which has torn down more than 14,000 vacant houses across Detroit, may have inadvertently created a new problem by spreading lead-contaminated dust through some of the city’s many hollowed-out neighborhoods.

Health officials are concerned that crushing walls covered with lead paint generates dust that can settle on nearby homes or drift through open windows, endangering families who have stayed long after their neighbors fled during Detroit’s long decline.

Because the risk of lead exposure is especially worrisome for children, Detroit Health Department teams plan to go door-to-door next week in some neighborhoods to seek out potential hazards and do in-home testing of children.

“We’re kind of throwing the kitchen sink at it a little bit,” said Health Director Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun. Since the problem involves children, “we have to do everything we can” to ensure the demolition program “is as safe as possible.”

Health department data released last year showed elevated blood lead levels among children living in several areas where dilapidated structures have been knocked down. The city has not determined if demolitions caused the increase, but officials curtailed some work until the onset of colder weather, when windows are more likely to be closed and children less likely to be outdoors.

The at-risk neighborhoods include some of the poorest parts of Detroit, which has one of the highest poverty levels in the U.S.

Lead paint long has been the primary cause of lead poisoning in the city, where most homes were built well before 1978, when lead paint was outlawed. But mass demolition started only a few years ago.

A 2014 survey found more than 70,000 vacant houses, many of them relicts of the mass exodus. Since then, Detroit’s population has plummeted from about 1.8 million to 670,000. As they decayed, the empty homes became havens for squatters, drug users and criminals.