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Study: Improperly treated water a 'plausible' cause of skin rashes in Flint

A panel of experts outline the findings in a new report on skin rashes in Flint

A federal report says improperly treated Flint River water was a “plausible” cause of skin rashes suffered by city residents.

People in Flint have been blaming painful itchy rashes on the city’s tap water. Many pinpoint the development of their skin irritation to the city’s switch to the Flint River as its tap water source. Now a panel of experts for the most part agrees.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies have spent the past six months interviewing and examining hundreds of Flint residents. About half say they developed skin rashes before Flint switched back to Detroit’s water last October. 

The experts also combed through data showing wide variations in the water hardness and the PH and Chlorine levels coming out of Flint’s water plant during the 18 months the city was on the Flint River.

“We think there’s a strong suggestion that the water quality at that time, especially in the terms of the parameters that we did measure that we do know are associated with water, represent a “smoking gun” if you will, that suggests these are rash related,” says Patrick Breysee, Ph.D., the director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. 

The study also suggests the problem may have been made worse by mental and physical stress, as well as people changing their “personal care routines” such as bathing less often. 

“The findings of the investigation validate many of the concerns expressed (by Flint families),” says Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

But the experts say Flint’s current water source does not contain metals or minerals known to cause skin problems or hair loss.   

“I know that these findings might not immediately alleviate the fear and anxiety that many families throughout Flint feel right now about all this,” says Dr. Nicole Lurie, who’s been leading the federal response to the Flint water crisis.

She recommends people that still have problems should see their doctor.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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