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Flint children tested for lead exposure

Nov 12, 2015

Dozens of families turned up for free blood lead level testing in Flint today.

"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.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Nurses tried to soothe the fears of toddlers, telling them “it’s just a little poke” before using a small lancet to prick the child’s finger.   

Many of the children were not soothed. But many parents hope the clinic will ease some of their worries.

Researchers say blood lead levels in children have risen in Flint during the 18 months the city was getting its drinking water from the Flint River.    

Tests have shown the drinking water in many homes and a handful of school buildings tested above the federal action level for lead.

Lead is linked to mental and physical health issues, especially in children under five years old. 

Debra Banks brought her grandnieces and nephews to Brownell Elementary School on Thursday for the special lead testing clinic.  

She says the children appear to be normal. But she’s worried because of stories about lead in the water and its potential neurological side effects.

“They need all the brain cells they need,” says Banks. “I don’t want any of them destroyed because of the lead.”

Genesee County routinely tests children for lead exposure, but they can’t reach everyone. 

“You look at the statistics, about half of the kids are not being tested,” says Mark Valacak, Genesee County’s health officer. “We want to encourage them to do that.”

Valacak says most of the children the health department has tested have not had unusually high blood lead levels. He says there are other factors contributing to high blood lead levels in Flint, including a legacy of lead paint in and on older homes.

The city of Flint recently switched back to Detroit water. But health officials warn the lead problem is expected to linger. They urge people living in Flint to use water filters for the foreseeable future.