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Flint — Some doctors urged Flint on Thursday to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children, an extraordinary health warning in a controversy over the city’s water supply.

“It’s our professional obligation to care for the children of Flint if we know something,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center in Flint. “Lead poisoning is irreversible. This is not what our community needs. You have to err on the side of caution (and) educate the public.”

There is no dispute water drawn from the Flint River since 2014 is agitating and releasing lead in old pipes and service lines in thousands of homes. State regulators insist the water is safe, although they’re urging anyone with concerns to have their water tested for free.

Hanna-Attisha said she looked at 1,746 test results from Flint children this year, compared to earlier results when Flint used Lake Huron as its water source. The percentage of kids with above-average lead levels had nearly doubled, according to the study. In certain areas, it tripled.

The study said Flint should stop using the Flint River “as soon as possible.” Flint plans to switch to Lake Huron water again in 2016 when a pipeline is completed.

“No amount of lead is good for human beings. … You can pay now or pay later,” said Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of Mott Children’s Health Center, who appeared at a news conference with Hanna-Attisha.

State regulators quickly responded. Brad Wurfel, spokesman at the Department of Environmental Quality, said the water controversy is becoming “near-hysteria.”

“I wouldn’t call them irresponsible. I would call them unfortunate,” Wurfel said of the doctors’ comments.

“Flint’s drinking water is safe in that it’s meeting state and federal standards,” he said. “The system has an aging portion that needs to be addressed. They haven’t had meaningful maintenance for four decades or more.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t found the same results in its own work, spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher said.

“Our experts want a better sense of how they got there,” she said. “The data that we have is a much larger set of data. … We’re not seeing what those numbers look like.”

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