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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Flint Michigan Water Crisis- Lead Poisoning in Children

Dec 30, 2015

A study published online December 21, 2015 in the American Journal of Public Health confirms the crisis with the drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan. The change in Flint's water supply has led to dangerously elevated lead levels in children.

The rising lead levels occurred after Flint "introduced a more corrosive water source into an aging water system without adequate corrosion control," the researchers say. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Children's Hospital, led the research team.

Incidence of elevated blood lead levels increased from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent (P <.05) after the water source change, and neighborhoods with the highest water lead levels experienced a 6.6 percent increase. No significant change was seen outside the city, according to the research team, according to the article's abstract.

Flint residents had complained about the taste, smell and appearance of the water after the change in source. In October, the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) admitted its mistake in failing to require the addition of corrosion-control chemicals to the Flint River water. The state then provided funds to help Flint reconnect to Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized to the city for the drinking water crisis. The governor accepted the resignation of Dan Wyant, director of the DEQ, the Free Press reports. The governor said there would be other personnel changes at the DEQ and additional moves to assure the safety of Flint residents. In October, Snyder appointed the Flint Water Advisory Task Force to investigate the lead crisis. The task force's interim findings, reported in a letter to the governor, are highly critical of the DEQ. The task force said the "primary responsibility" for the lead crisis in Flint lies with the DEQ, which "failed in its responsibility" to ensure safe drinking water for Michigan residents and "must be held accountable for that failure."

On December 24, the Free Press reported that records obtained by the Michigan ACLU and Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards show that elevated lead levels in Flint's drinking water would have prompted action months sooner if the results of city testing had not been revised by the DEQ to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately half a million children in the U.S. between the ages of one and five have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the level at which CDC recommends public health actions be taken. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, the CDC says. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body and even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect a child's IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. Lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, and therefore it frequently goes unrecognized.

The authors of the American Journal of Public Health article reviewed blood lead levels for children younger than 5 years before (2013) and after (2015) water source change in Greater Flint, Michigan. They concluded that the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels increased after the water source change, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Water is a growing source of childhood lead exposure because of aging infrastructure, they say.

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