Study finds children's blood lead levels in Flint are declining - WNEM TV 5

Study finds children's blood lead levels in Flint are declining

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Blood lead levels in Flint children are declining, according to a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The report found children’s blood levels were nearly three times higher almost a decade before the year of the Flint water crisis.

"There's no question the water here in Flint has improved over time," said Hernan Gomez, a medical toxicologist and pediatrician at Michigan Medicine who is focused on pediatric care at Hurley Medical Center's Emergency Department in Flint.

Gomez is the lead author of a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics that claims blood levels in Flint children were at least three times higher in 2006 and have gradually come down, showing only a small increase during the Flint water crisis.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School examined lead concentrations in 15,817 blood samples of Flint children 5-years- old and younger over an 11 year period.

The samples included before, during and after the city’s water source switch.

The CDC cites any child with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood is a serious red flag. 

They found a decrease in lead levels, from 2.33 micrograms per deciliter in 2006 to 1.15 micrograms per deciliter in 2016.

"In Detroit, as we look now is 7.5 percent. Grand Rapids, Detroit, other areas across the state of Michigan actually have a higher percentage of lead level what was experienced during the Flint water crisis," Gomez said.

It’s a historic low for the city.

"The Flint River water exposure particularly raised concerns about the potential health impact on children," Gomez said. "It's unacceptable that any child was exposed to drinking water with elevated lead concentrations. There is no known safe blood level of lead, and the ultimate public health goal is for children to have zero amounts of lead in their system.”

The research team used data from Hurley Medical Center. Gomez said his study provides a historical perspective of childhood lead exposure in the community.

"We found that the increased blood lead levels of Flint children during the water crisis - while very concerning - was not higher than that found in years prior to 2013,” Gomez said. "These findings suggest that, even when taking into account exposure to corrosive Flint water, long term public health efforts to reduce lead exposure in the community have been largely effective."

Researchers said during the same period as the Flint water crisis, an average 3.4 percent of Michigan children and 3.3 percent of U.S. children had lead levels above the CDC reference point.

In 2006, Gomez said Flint children were at nearly 12 percent.

"We are invested in this community," Gomez said. "We don't want to hear about the generation of Flint brain poisoned children, simply not true."

TV5 also reached out to Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha who had a huge role in uncovering the lead issue in Flint.

While she did agree with parts of the study, she doesn't seem totally on-board. 

She released a statement saying in part:

"Incredible science has taught us that there is no safe level of lead. Just because levels were higher in the industrial past, does not mean that current levels are not concerning. We should actually be more concerned based on the recent science on low-level exposure."

Gomez agrees that no child should be exposed to lead, but added findings suggest it was a lot worse a decade ago.

"The goal for the CDC as you might imagine is zero," Gomez said. "There is no known safe level of lead."

Gomez attributes mediation of leaded gasoline and paint to the falling levels, with Flint having some of the lowest lead levels across the state.

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