News Feature | September 29, 2015

Potential Child Lead Poisoning Latest Twist In Flint Water Debacle

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

In some ways, the tap water problems that have plagued Flint, MI, for over a year seem to become worse with each new revelation.

“[The city’s] ongoing water woes are now associated with an immediate and irreversible danger — possible lead poisoning of some of the city’s children,” the Detroit Free Press reported, citing an assessment of blood test results by a Hurley Children’s Hospital pediatrician.

“Some doctors urged Flint to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children, an extraordinary health warning in an ongoing controversy over the city's water supply,” the Associated Press reported.

Mona Hanna-Attisha of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine explained the implications of the findings.

“I was hoping not to find anything, but what we found … is concerning," she said, per the Free Press. “This is not something you mess around with. Our population already has so many issues from poverty, from unemployment, from violence.”

Flint has faced water challenges, including E. coli and high trihalomethane levels, since it stopped using Detroit's water supply over a year ago and became responsible for its own treatment processes. After the switch to Flint River water, residents began reporting “skin rashes and their hair falling out, likely caused by the chlorine used to kill the E. coli," Michigan Radio reported.

Experts employed by the state had a different take on Flint River water. Brad Wurfel, spokesman at the Department of Environmental Quality, said, per the Associated Press: "Flint's drinking water is safe in that it's meeting state and federal standards. The system has an aging portion that needs to be addressed. They haven't had meaningful maintenance for four decades or more."

Department of Health and Human Services Spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher said of the findings, per to the AP: "Our experts want a better sense of how they got there. The data that we have is a much larger set of data. We're not seeing what those numbers look like."

Tests by Virginia Tech researchers indicated that nearly 17 percent of Flint samples showed 15 ppb of lead or more. The EPA says that “if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 more than 10 percent of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion.”

For additional stories, visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.