Study Sheds Light on Blood Lead Levels in Flint, Michigan

Blood lead levels have increased among children in Flint, Michigan after the city implemented a more corrosive water source, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals. In April 2014, Flint’s drinking water source was changed from Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit to Flint River water; the latter is far more corrosive and polluted. The water source was switched in an effort to cut costs. Unfortunately, as the study authors note, officials “introduced a more corrosive water source into an aging water system without adequate corrosion control”.

Researchers compared blood lead levels in children less than five years old before and after the water source changed in Greater Flint, Michigan. They found that blood lead levels jumped up to 4.9 percent from 2.4 percent. In neighborhoods with the highest water lead levels, blood lead levels rose 6.6 percent. The authors concluded that “The percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels increased after water source change, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Water is a growing source of childhood lead exposure because of aging infrastructure.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even at low levels lead can harm children. Lead exposure has been linked to a lower IQ, impairments in attention and academic achievement. The consequences of lead exposure cannot be reversed.

Detroit Free Press reports that Flint did not implement corrosion-control chemicals, which would have prevented lead from entering the drinking water. The state admitted that it failed to mandate corrosion-control guidelines in Flint because it misinterpreted a federal rule. Gov. Rick Snyder recently apologized to the city, stating “I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened,” Snyder said, according to Detroit Free Press. “And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging infrastructure.”

The governor accepted the resignation of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and stated “changes in leadership and staff are not enough. I understand there can be disagreements within the scientific community. That is why I have directed both the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services to invite every external scientist who has worked on this issue to be our partners in helping us improve Flint water.”

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