Babies born in the United States are routinely screened for lead levels and have been for decades. It’s well documented that lead poisoning can have devastating effects on child development, specifically in cognitive and neurological areas. Even being exposed to low levels of lead can have an irreversible impact on children and adults including cardiac problems and organ failure.
When it was recently discovered that drinking water in Flint, Michigan was contaminated with high levels of lead, a local pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha looked at the data and found startling results. She is the director of the Pediatric Residency program at Hurley Medical Center in Flint and when she heard from a colleague about the pipes that brought the water from the Flint River to area homes, she took a look at lead levels from the hospital screening records.
happens after a person is exposed to lead in the water they drink, contaminated air or soil or products they use. Lead poisoning is sometimes referred to as “Painter’s colic” because it was common for painters who used lead paint on a regular basis to have symptoms like irritability, abdominal pain and eventually mental confusion as a result of working with substances that contained high levels of lead.
Elevated lead in the body can be detected by looking at changes in blood cells visible with a microscope. In addition, X-rays will show dense lines in the bones of children exposed to lead, but the main tool for diagnosis is measurement of the blood lead level. The CDC
has set the standard for the acceptable amount of lead circulating in the body (for children) at 5 µg/dl of blood because lead is much more dangerous to young children.
In an interview with CNN Dr. Hanna-Attisha said, “When pediatricians hear anything about lead, we absolutely freak out. Lead is a potent known neurotoxin. The CDC, the AAP, everybody tells us that there is no safe level of lead. Lead poisoning affects your cognition and your behavior. It actually drops your IQ.”
Her research showed that lead levels in children screened at Hurley had risen dramatically after the city of Flint had switched the water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Normal rates of lead poisoning in the area are about 2.1% but the records showed
that the number of children with high levels of lead had actually doubled after the switch. In one particular neighborhood it had more than tripled.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha took the unusual step of releasing her research at a press conference instead of submitting it to peer-reviewed journals. While there was initial shock and criticism of her research, city and state officials have looked at her data closer and accepted her findings. There are several families in the area who have reported cognitive issues and brain damage since the water switch. Check out the video below to see how this one local pediatrician stood up to the city in order to prevent neurological damage to children.