Blood-lead levels of young children in Flint were "significantly higher" after the Michigan city switched its water source to cut costs in 2014, prompting a crisis that was "entirely preventable," according to U.S. disease experts.
In a report released Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the likelihood a child would have a concerning blood-lead level — at least 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood — was about 50 percent higher after the April 2014 switch from Detroit's water system to the Flint River.
Flint used the water for 18 months, during which lead leached from old pipes at homes because the water wasn't treated to control corrosion. The city switched back to Detroit last fall.
About 9,600 children younger than 6 years old lived in homes served by Flint's water system, the report said. Among them, about 7,300 received nearly 9,700 blood lead tests before, during and after the water source switch.
"This crisis was entirely preventable, and a startling reminder of the critical need to eliminate all sources of lead from our children's environment," Patrick Breysse, director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement.
Children can develop learning disabilities and behavior problems from lead exposure, even in low levels.
Officials noted some limitations with the findings: They couldn't account for all factors that might have contributed to a children's lead exposure, whether lead-based paint was present in the children's homes or whether a decline in blood-lead levels was at least partly because of the increased consumption of bottled water.
Still, the authors say the analysis suggests increased lead exposure related to consuming contaminated water in Flint.
The report comes a day after federal officials announced that filtered tap water was safe for everyone in Flint, lifting a recommendation that pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 6 drink bottled water to avoid lead exposure. The announcement was based on tests of filters that have been distributed for months for free by the state of Michigan.
In March, a state task force that investigated the Flint crisis concluded that it was a "case of environmental injustice" in a poor, majority black city.