Dr. Mona Attisha Study Shows Link Between Children in Flint Michigan and Lead Levels
By: Janson Fisher, Xiro Xone News December 22, 2016
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Director of Pediatric Residency at Hurley Children's Hospital has conducted a new study that may provide the strongest evidence yet of a link between elevated blood-lead levels in children living in Flint, Michigan, and the struggling city's water system.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha and other experts compiled the report using a refined analysis. It showed that areas in Flint with the highest levels of lead in tap water corresponded with increasing levels of lead in the blood samples of young children.
The study also confirmed her earlier assessment that the percentage of children with abnormally high blood-lead levels had at least doubled after switching from Detroit's water system to water from the Flint River.
The startling findings "strongly implicate the water source change as the probable cause for the dramatic increase," according to the report published in the American Journal of Public Health. The report said the results probably understate the danger because testing is not conducted before birth and during infancy, when numbers likely would be higher. Screenings usually are performed between ages 1 and 2.
"Everybody who drank this water or cooked with this water was exposed to lead," said Hanna-Attisha, the report's lead writer and an assistant professor at Michigan State University.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her colleagues refined their data, focusing specifically on children under age 5 within the city limits and excluding those who live outside the city but within Flint zip codes where no significant changes in blood-lead levels were found.
The researchers found that the proportion of children with at least five milligrams of lead per deciliter, the point considered elevated, had risen from 2.4 percent in the nine months before the water switch to 4.9 percent in the nine months afterward.
In neighborhoods with the highest water lead levels, the increase was even bigger at 6.6 percent. And in one section of town, the percentage of children with elevated levels went from 4.9 percent to 15.7 percent. No reason for the higher blood-lead levels except the water was found, the study said.
Although lead exposure is irreversible and no level is safe, not every affected child will suffer the worst results, Hanna-Attisha said. Good nutrition can help the body excrete toxins instead of absorbing them. Effective early-childhood education and relief from stresses such as poverty and violence are important.
"We have an opportunity to build a model public health program so we don't see these consequences," she said.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha announced in September that data from blood tests routinely administered to young children showed that lead levels had jumped since the water systems were changed.
Flint, Michigan Mayor Karen Weaver has declared a state of emergency due to problems with the city's water system caused by using water from the Flint River, explaining the city needs more federal help.
The city of about 99,000 residents started using the Flint River as an interim water source until it could hook up to a new system drawing water from Lake Huron that is scheduled for completion next year. The cost-cutting move was made while the city was under state emergency financial management.
State officials initially challenged the data, but later acknowledged the findings, and Flint resumed using Detroit water. The state has approved millions of dollars in aid to address the crisis.