MEA hosts lead expert to train Flint teachers

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The Michigan Education Association wants to prepare city school teachers about what to expect from children as result of the city’s water crisis.

The MEA is holding two meetings for some 70 local teachers this week for member training on “educational interventions,” with national lead poisoning expert Dr. Helen Binns. The first was held Tuesday.

Binns is a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago as well as a professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Binns said with added preschool services and resources for parents “the children will probably be pretty fine.”

“You most likely won’t be able to tell if you really bolster your early intervention,” she said.

Binns was a co-author along with experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, publishing a paper in April 2015 titled “Educational Interventions for Children Affected by Lead.”

“You certainly can see children who have reduced attention, but you certainly see that with children who have not been exposed, too, So you can’t point to a child and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was lead,’ ” she said.

She said the most effective path forward for children exposed to lead in the city “is a partnership with parents and teachers in preparing children to reach their highest ability.”

According to her, effective early interventions include: “working with language skills, listening with reading, singing and playing — those parental responses are actually enhancing brain development.”

Binns also explained how lead can impact the body.

“If you have lead in a liquid form, the absorption is higher, though the absorption is additionally dependent upon the nutritional status of the person who might be ingesting,” she said.

She added if “a person is fasting they will have enhanced absorption,” or if someone who is iron deficient will also have “enhanced absorption” because “the same systems that grab iron from the diet also grab lead.”

Remarking on the initial study conducted by Dr. Mona-Hanna Attisha at Hurley Medical Center, Binns was direct but cautious on the severity of the exposure in the city.

“It may be important to identify all the children who have had high lead levels and be sure all the sources of lead be removed from the homes,” Binns said.

Carrie Fisher, a preschool teacher at Freeman Elementary school on the city’s southeast side, said she came to Tuesday’s meeting to “learn more about how I can help the kids in my classroom.”

Fisher said she was troubled about what she heard about the long-term effects of lead exposure. Lead is toxic to both adults and children, but is especially harmful to children because it interferes with development of the nervous system, causing potentially permanent learning and behavioral disorders.

“I feel really bad that I don’t live in Flint, that we can’t depend on the water in the school and the issues the parents are bringing to us,” she said.

Fisher said many parents are exhausted from using bottled water and still won’t bathe their kids in the city’s water.

Karen Christian, president of United Teachers of Flint, said she believes health issues with her students and son stem from using Flint’s lead-tainted water.

“As a teacher its really important to have people like Dr. Binns come in so we can start to understand the health and behavioral side of who kids have been and will continue to be affected by this and have different strategies moving forward,” she said.