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Flint parents sue over 2-year-old's lead poisoning

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Luke Waid says he was stunned when he got the results from his daughter Sophia's 1-year check-up.

It was August 2014, and a blood test revealed a lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control considers 5 "high." 

Six months earlier, Sophia's blood-lead level had been fine, Waid says. Then, in April of 2014, Flint started pumping its drinking water from the Flint River. Four months after that, her lead level spiked.

The following month, in September, Waid says doctors did a follow-up test, just to be certain. Same result.

Waid says people from the WIC (a federal aid program for low-income mothers and children) office told him they'd called Child Protective Services, and that the state would get involved if the family didn't mitigate lead levels in their home.

(Note: Michigan Radio reached out to the Michigan Department Health and Humans Services to ask about this. "Children’s Protective Services is not routinely involved when a child tests for a high blood-lead level," said Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson with MDHHS, via email. "If CPS received a complaint regarding a child having an elevated blood-lead level, we would work with the family to help the family provide safe water to the children or mitigate any other lead present in the home."

Wheaton also referred to an earlier statement this month from Child Protective Services, saying that agency "has not assigned a single Children’s Protective Services complaint due to any issues related to Flint water.") 

Meanwhile, Waid says they were frantic. They spent about $7,000 on home renovations, even though they'd already overhauled the house before they moved in, putting up drywall and layering on fresh paint.

"I really didn't know what to think," Waid says. "At the time, I was living in a home that was older. But we completely renovated the home before we moved in, so I knew it wasn't the home, because we didn't even allow her to play outside the home, or even in the dirt walking in and out of the home."

Meanwhile, Waid says the whole family stopped drinking city water, as soon as Sophia's high lead levels showed up in tests.

"The water was so discolored,” he says. “You don't even want to put your children in the bath water when it's that bad." So they moved into a relative's home, where they were on well water. That's when Sophia's lead levels started to come down again, he says.

But even now, more than a year later, Waid says Sophia still doesn’t seem OK.

"She's constantly irritable. It's like she can't calm down," he says. "It's hard for her to concentrate and learn. What scares is me is, what's to come? Is she going to be ADHD, is she going to have a learning disability? I'm not certain, because I'm no doctor. We have children that we care about and want the best for, and it seems like our city officials do not care."

Now the family has another child: a baby boy, six weeks old.

"These guys don't have a voice of their own, so I have to be their voice,” says Waid of the decision to file a lawsuit against Governor Snyder and other state and local officials. “I have to stand behind my children. If I didn't feel so betrayed, I wouldn't have brought it this far.”

Meanwhile, Waid says they’re trying everything they can think of to help mitigate the long-term effects for Sophia. They’ve got her on a vegetarian diet. No high-fructose corn syrup. No GMOs. It’s expensive, Waid says, but at least it’s something they can do.

Still, he can’t stop thinking: if he’d just known the water wasn’t safe to drink, Wade says, this could have all been prevented.

“They could have told us months in advance. And we could have had home filtration systems set up, so it could have never gotten this far."

Several other lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of Flint residents, including potential class-action suits. 

*This post was updated February 9th to include comments received from MDHHS.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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