New federal data provide the most extensive look so far at the scope of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which became a flashpoint this past winter for the dangers of lead and government inaction in a poor community.
Flint children consuming city water were nearly 50 percent more likely to test for a blood lead level considered high after Flint switched in 2014 to a water source that corroded the city’s underground pipes, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
The report, released Friday, draws from nearly 10,000 blood tests conducted over the course of nearly three years on children under 6 years old, who can experience lasting health consequences and developmental delays as a result of exposure to even relatively low levels of lead.
Although there is no level of lead known to be safe for children, five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is typically the threshold at which children are given dietary changes and social and educational services. A total of 84 Flint children surpassed that mark in the months after the water source switch.
Elevated blood lead levels declined after the city issued a water advisory and switched to a different water source — data collected in a five-month period concluding this March showed just 48 cases — but the CDC report emphasized that could be attributable to behavioral changes like drinking bottled water rather than safer water.
No Flint children hit the extremely high mark of 45 micrograms per deciliter during the water crisis, at which point people are treated with more extreme measures like chelation therapy.
“This crisis was entirely preventable, and a startling reminder of the critical need to eliminate all sources of lead from our children’s environment,” Patrick Breysse, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement.
Data provided to STAT by the state of Michigan earlier this year had showed similar results in 2015.