FLINT, MI — Seven attorneys who represent Flint residents in water crisis lawsuits against the state of Michigan, the city of Flint and others have abruptly withdrawn a request to suspend the use of portable bone scanning equipment as part of a $641-million proposed settlement of their cases.
A motion filed Monday, March 1, asked U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy to end the testing until a hearing could be held, but less than 24 hours later, after a meeting with the judge, the attorneys filed a one-sentence notice with the court that they are withdrawing the request.
MLive-The Flint Journal could not immediately reach two of the attorneys — Theodore J. Leopold and Michael L. Pitt — who filed the withdrawal request and who were appointed by Levy to lead negotiations that led to the historic settlement that has already received preliminary approvals from federal and state court judges.
The sudden change again puts Flint residents in a scramble to secure the bone scans, which are being used to measure the extent of lead exposure in adults and children and can result in much larger claims awards in the settlement process.
The bone scans are not available in Flint except for those being carried out with portable equipment by the law firm Napoli Shkolnik and access to the testing has been limited to one day per week for those who are not clients of the law firm.
There is no court-administered bone lead testing program for all other residents making a claim that they were harmed by Flint water while the Flint River was used as the city’s source of drinking water.
In their initial request to suspend the use of bone lead testing, Leopold and Pitt said they attempted to make the testing more available to residents, but found the manufacturer of the portable testing equipment “refuses to sell the device to purchasers who intend to use it for human applications.”
The filing says they “further explored use of the device with a team of researchers at the University of Michigan, but learned that the university will not participate in such a program” until the equipment is shown to be safe and effective for use on children.
In the initial request to stop the bone scans, Pitt and Leopold argued that the portable equipment used by Napoli Shkolnik has not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for use in diagnosing lead exposure in humans.
Paul Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik told MLive-The Flint Journal on Monday, March 1, that the bone lead tests being offered by his firm are safe — similar to receiving an X-ray procedure from a dentist or doctor — and are effective at measuring the extent of lead in a person’s body.
This week’s legal wrangling over the bone scans come just days after Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, who serves as health advisor to Mayor Sheldon Neeley, filed objections in U.S. District Court to both the water crisis settlement and its reliance on bone scans to measure lead exposure.
Reynolds told Neeley in a Facebook broadcast that bone testing equipment being used in Flint was never “designed to be used on human beings — at all.”
“This is a human rights violation. It is the Tuskegee experiment all over again …,” Reynolds said during the broadcast.
The $641-million water crisis settlement is the result of mediation between attorneys for Flint residents who claim they were harmed by Flint water and the state of Michigan. The state was later joined in the settlement by city of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services, each of which agreed to pay into the settlement fund in exchange for being removed from water crisis lawsuits against them in state and federal courts.
Blood tests, bone scans and neurological examinations can all have a dramatic effect on the amount of the individual checks residents who participate in the settlement ultimately receive but the bone scans have so far been difficult to obtain.
Last week, a website that’s being operated on behalf of the U.S. District Court to share information about the settlement offered a link to schedule the scans at the Napoli Shkolnik clinic for those who are not clients of the firm.
Less than one day after the link was posted online, every available time slot was completely taken.
On Wednesday, March 3, there were eight time slots available during the next weeks.
Read more on MLive:
Flint mayor’s health advisor calls water settlement bone lead testing ‘a human rights violation’
Attorneys for Flint residents ask judge to stop bone lead testing in water crisis settlement
Bone testing for lead expands in Flint but appointments fill up almost immediately