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Flint water a public health ‘threat’

Public health scientists are calling for the City of Flint and the State of Michigan to take immediate action to prevent a public health disaster as lead continues to accumulate in the blood of local adults and children.

In April of 2014, the City of Flint moved off of the Lake Huron-fed Detroit water supply in favor of the newly created Karegnondi Water Authority. Unfortunately, the Karegnondi system will not be online until 2016 and the city has been forced to draw their water from the Flint River in the meantime. Purified river water is, on average, 16 times as corrosive as equivalent lake water. It eats away at the old lead piping that connects houses to main lines.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of the Hurley Children’s Hospital authored the study. She also heads the pediatric residency program at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. Water testing was conducted by researchers from Virginia Tech University. Testing supervisor Marc Edwards said “there should have been red lights flashing (when the city began using the river in April 2014) — knowing that if you put that water into Flint’s system without corrosion control, you’re going to see a massive lead release.”

The Center for Disease Control recommends health action be initiated when blood lead levels rise above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). Since the city switched water suppliers, the number of children in Flint exceeding that standard has doubled. In ZIP codes designated as high risk, that number has tripled.

We cannot be more clear that regardless of where public health standards initiate action, there is no safe or acceptable limit for lead exposure. Extensive research by the CDC and National Institute of Health shows this to be true.

Even low levels of lead exposure are dangerous and can lead to severe problems in a child’s mental development. Younger children are more at risk. Unborn children are extremely susceptible to minute levels of lead exposure. Other symptoms of exposure are hearing problems, kidney damage, varying degrees of mental retardation and inhibited body growth.

The report recommends that infant formula not be mixed with Flint tap water, that pregnant mothers not use city water, and that lead-clearing filters be distributed.

Hanna-Attisha feels that the city has failed to act appropriately, saying “It’s our professional obligation to care for the children of Flint (and to tell parents) if we know something. Lead poisoning is irreversible. This is not what our community needs. You have to err on the side of caution (and) educate the public.”

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