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A new study finds children's blood lead levels in Flint are declining

"It's just a poke," a nurse told a toddler at a special lead clinic at Brownell Elementary School in Flint. The little girl disagreed, loudly.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Blood lead levels in Flint children are declining, according toa new study.

A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics finds blood lead levels in Flint children were nearly three times higher in 2006 than in samples taken in 2016.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School analyzed lead concentrations in 15,817 blood samples of Flint children five years old and younger. 

The study found a decrease in Flint childhood blood lead levels, from 2.33 micrograms per deciliter in 2006 to 1.15 micrograms per deciliter in 2016 — a historic low for the city. The mean blood lead level in 2015 during the height of the water crisis was 1.3 micrograms per deciliter, up from 1.19 in 2014 before the water source switch.

According to the study, the percentage of Flint children with blood lead levels over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public action standard dropped from 11.8% in 2006 to 3.2% in 2016.

Elevated blood lead levels are not just a problem in Flint.

During the same period of Flint’s water source change, 5.1% of Jackson children, 8% of Grand Rapids children and 7.5% of Detroit children had blood lead levels higher than the CDC reference point (compared with 3.7% of Flint children). During the same period, an average 3.4% of Michigan children and 3.3% of U.S. children had lead levels above the CDC reference point.

“Childhood lead exposure is a problem that existed long before the Flint water contamination,” says lead author Hernan Gomez, M.D., a medical toxicologist and pediatrician at Michigan Medicine. “Other communities continue to need resources to help prevent lead exposure for their youth.”

Researchers say the data suggest “long term public health efforts to reduce lead exposure in the community have been largely effective.”

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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