Feds award MSU $14M to create lead exposure registry

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that it is awarding Michigan State University $14.4 million to create a registry to monitor the health effects of lead on Flint residents exposed to it during the city’s water contamination crisis.

The funding was approved by Congress in December as part of a $170 million package authorizing emergency aid for Flint and other communities struggling with contaminated drinking water. That legislation, signed by President Barack Obama, included $17.5 million for a health registry.

“This funding is a continuation of the Trump administration’s commitment to support the affected or at-risk residents of Flint, Michigan, who have been exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement.

“Flint residents will benefit from having their health monitored over time and from being readily connected to services that will help reduce the health effects of lead exposure. Information collected by the registry will guide important health decisions and recommendations for the City of Flint and the State of Michigan for years to come.”

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, welcomed the development.

“A lead registry is a critical step to ensuring Flint residents exposed to lead during the crisis get the health care and other resources needed to mitigate the effects of lead exposure,” Kildee said in a Tuesday statement.

MSU will receive the $14 million over four years from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to build the registry, which is intended to identify, track and aid those exposed during the water crisis and connect them with support services.

Enrollment for the voluntary registry will start sometime next year, according to MSU.

The project aims to study participant data including lead exposure, health and childhood developmental milestones and link them to community intervention services such as health coverage, nutrition support, and water and home lead elimination.

The state of Michigan in January provided grant money to MSU to use toward planning the Flint registry. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services provided the university with a one-year $500,000 grant to prepare the federal grant application, hire a registry director and continue collaborating with stakeholders and national experts.

The MSU and Hurley Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative in Flint headed up that work, led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician credited with uncovering elevated levels of lead in the blood of Flint children nearly two years ago.

“The No. 1 goal of this registry is to improve the lives of individuals exposed to the Flint water,” said Hanna-Attisha, director of the MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative.

“It’s urgent that we continue to identify and connect people to services.”

Epidemiologist Nicole Jones was named director of the Flint registry in March.

Hanna-Attisha said in a statement that when the registry is live, organizers will launch a campaign to enroll participants, contacting residents directly. They will be able to sign up by phone, online, by mail or in person.

“There are approximately 100,000 residents in the city of Flint, and even more people who were exposed to the water,” she said. “We hope to enroll as many as possible, including those who moved out of the city.”

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