The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday afternoon they’ve sent a “public health strike team” to Flint.
HHS says it has sent in more than a dozen officers with the Commissioned Corps. That’s a uniformed service of public health experts.
They’ll be doing follow-up medical visits with kids whose tests have come back with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
We don’t know yet how many kids they’ll be visiting. The department did not make anyone available for an interview yesterday.
Experts say there’s no safe level of lead exposure.
Lead is known to cause brain damage and behavior problems in kids. The damage is irreversible.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha with Hurley Medical Center spoke to a packed auditorium yesterday at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.
“Our kids had every obstacle to success, and then they got lead,” she said.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha is the Flint pediatrician who found the number of kids with elevated levels of lead in their blood nearly doubled after Flint switched its water source.
Concern about babies
She told the audience that her team and the state have grossly underestimated the number of kids exposed to lead.
She says routine lead screening would not catch spikes in lead in infants.
“Because we screen for lead at one and two, and the half life of lead is only 28-30 days,” Hanna-Attisha said. “So we missed the peaks of these babies. So these babies who were on formula: imagine these moms — they wake up at 3 a.m. Baby wants a bottle. Babies want warm bottles. You get warm tap water, which increases lead leaching, and for the first six months of life, which is exclusive breast feeding or bottle feeding, that baby is getting lead-laced formula.”
Hanna-Attisha says those are the kids who need the most aggressive intervention — the ones who were exposed to lead in their water as babies.
She says that means doctors need to follow their brain development closely, and they need access to good nutrition, preschool and early literacy programs.