Federal chemical exposure team to probe rashes in Flint

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A four-member chemical exposure team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to arrive in Flint this week to investigate rashes possibly associated with the city’s water, state officials announced Monday.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has requested an assessment of chemical exposure from the federal department,, according to state officials. The request comes as the state conducts its own follow-up this month with Flint residents who reported skin rashes, officials said.

“While working with the community and our federal partners on these investigations, the option to utilize an ACE team in Flint has been identified as an important next step,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the state health department, said in a statement Monday. “We’re hopeful that an ACE investigation will assist us in further protecting the health of Flint residents by identifying any concerns that may be contributing to rashes and other skin concerns.”

Wells added that her department will work with local and federal partners to address the investigation’s findings.

In January, state health officials said Flint parents could bathe children in the city’s water, despite an increase in rashes reported in the previous couple of weeks. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services previously issued an advisory saying there was “no scientific link” between Flint water and skin rashes that began to appear after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit system to Flint River water in April 2014.

In mid-October, the city switched back to the Detroit water system, but residents still can’t drink the water without a filter due to lead seepage from water pipes damaged by highly corrosive Flint River water.

The state health department said it has been following up with Flint residents who have called United Way 211 or visited their doctors with concerns about skin rashes. The follow-ups include home visits from a health information specialist who learns more about individual rashes and an EPA team that takes water samples.

“The water testing is different from other routine water sampling and testing throughout Flint and focuses on identifying concentrations of metals and other water quality factors that may be associated with the reported rashes,” officials said in a statement.

The ACE team expected to arrive this week will include experts from two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Officials said they expect the assessment to be quick and include assistance with training, interviews, surveying and sampling.

“We have heard concerns from Flint residents about rashes, and as a parent and physician, I can understand how frustrating this situation can be,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who heads the federal government’s response and recovery support in Flint. “In response, we’re bringing in a team of chemical exposure experts to investigate the possible causes of these rashes and help residents and area officials determine what’s happening and why.”

State officials are encouraging residents with concerns about rashes to see a doctor or call United Way 211.


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