Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created a new board on Friday to eliminate children's exposure to lead statewide, saying the state needs to do more than just reduce exposure to the harmful chemical in the wake of the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint.
The Republican governor, whose administration has been deemed primarily responsible for the public health emergency, formed the board with an executive order and tasked it with recommending a strategy to protect children from all sources of lead poisoning. Flint's crisis stems from old pipes contaminating the water after the city switched from Detroit's water system to improperly treated Flint River water in 2014.
But lead poisoning is more frequently linked to paint dust in older housing. The toxin was banned from paint in 1978.
Snyder said the board will "focus on all the keys steps," including how the state can ensure more children are tested for lead. He said priorities include boosting the number of families using follow-up services when a child tests positive for elevated blood-lead levels, along with improving the investigation of individual cases and current remediation and abatement efforts, and ensuring more thorough data collection.
The 12-member Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board will be chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and have four state department directors and seven gubernatorial appointees. Recommendations are due by early November.
Michigan had a similar commission created under a 2004 law that expired in 2010. In March, a task force that investigated the Flint disaster recommended re-establishing the panel, partly to review the state's ability to meet federal requirements that all young children enrolled in Medicaid be screened for lead with a blood test.
The task force said statewide screening goals are met in very few instances at the county level or within Medicaid health plans. That leaves parents, doctors and public health authorities "uninformed about the possibility of lead poisoning for thousands of Michigan children," the group said.
One factor that contributed to a delay in detecting Flint's contamination was the state Department of Health and Human Services not conducting an analysis of 2014 blood lead levels until the summer of 2015, at the request of Snyder's then-chief of staff, according to the task force's report.
A state epidemiologist found a concerning pattern in Flint, while a state lead poisoning program data manager concluded the opposite under a "fundamentally flawed" analysis, the report said. The conflicting conclusions were not elevated to higher-level executives in the department.
"We have all of the pieces," Calley said. "What we're missing is a coordinated, strategic plan with real muscle and resources behind it."
Later Friday, at a water distribution site set up in the parking lot of a Flint sports arena, Snyder thanked members of the Michigan National Guard. The Guard is winding down its monthslong participation in distributing bottled water, filters and testing kits to residents who have been told not to drink unfiltered tap water.
Such sites, previously situated in fire stations, now are established at different spots around Flint. They are being staffed by paid residents.
"People shouldn't be planning on this (water distribution) ending any time soon," Snyder said. "I would expect there even to be a transition after the water's been OK'd, in terms of coming out of the faucet, that we'll have some transitional period."
Eggert reported from Lansing.
Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 and Mike Householder at http://twitter.com/mikehouseholder