Flint mayor’s health advisor calls water settlement bone lead testing ‘a human rights violation’

Eufemia Didonato

FLINT, MI — A Flint doctor who serves as health advisor to Mayor Sheldon Neeley has filed objections to a proposed $641-million water crisis settlement, particularly its reliance on bone scans to measure lead exposure and as a tool to provide higher awards to children and adults who have the […]

FLINT, MI — A Flint doctor who serves as health advisor to Mayor Sheldon Neeley has filed objections to a proposed $641-million water crisis settlement, particularly its reliance on bone scans to measure lead exposure and as a tool to provide higher awards to children and adults who have the highest levels of lead in their bones.

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, who also served as a member of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint Water Advisory Task Force and past president and chief executive officer of Mott Children’s Health Center in Flint, filed his objections in U.S. District Court on Friday, Feb. 26.

He repeated his claim that the bone testing equipment being used in Flint was never “designed to be used on human beings — at all” during the weekend on Neeley’s weekly Facebook Live broadcast.

“This is a human rights violation. It is the Tuskegee experiment all over again …,” Reynolds said during the broadcast.

Neeley said he trusts Reynolds’ opinion but added his filing doesn’t represent the “total views … of our Facebook broadcast.”

Reynolds’ objections are the most recent development in the burgeoning debate over the use of bone scans to help determine the amount of money individuals would receive if the proposed water settlement is approved in federal and state courts later this year.

The settlement is the result of mediation between attorneys for Flint residents who claim they were harmed by Flint water and the state of Michigan, city of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services.

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 in some compensation categories but the availability of the tests has been limited.

Last week, a website that’s being operated on behalf of the U.S. District Court to share information about the settlement offered a way for residents to get a bone scan from a temporary clinic set up by the law firm Napoli Shkolnik — even if they are not clients of that firm.

But less than one day after a link to the scheduling site for the bone scans was posted online, every available time slot was completely taken.

Paul Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik said the bone lead tests being offered by the firm are safe — similar to receiving an X-ray procedure from a dentist or doctor and are effective at measuring the extend of lead in a person’s body.

Napoli called Reynolds’ filing with the court “contrary to science” and “probably just outside (Reynolds’ ) specialty” as a doctor.

Napoli Shkolnik set up the clinic, overseen by a physician from New York University, as a way to show the court which Flint residents making water settlement claims were the most damaged by exposure to lead in drinking water.

Napoli said the clinic was already testing at its Flushing Road facility six days a week before offering the service to residents represented by other attorneys on Sundays, but said those other attorneys should blame themselves for not arranging their own testing if their clients can’t get a test now.

“Now (that there are not enough appointment times for all residents), everybody goes holy moly, we didn’t do anything …,” he said. “You don’t sit on your hands” and be surprised now.

Reynolds was one of the health officials in Flint who sounded warnings about increasing lead levels after the city changed its drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014.

After the switch in water sources, state regulators mistakenly allowed Flint to distribute river water without requiring that it first be treated to make it less corrosive and the water caused water service lines to leach lead.

A pediatrician by training, Reynolds said in his court filing that he was asked to participate in bone lead testing here by another law firm involved in the Flint water settlement negotiations but declined because of his reservations about the use of the hand-held lead measuring equipment on humans when it was designed for use commercially in mining and soil measurements.

“I declined … It is my belief that any ethical medical practitioner should have declined as well,” his court filing says.

Reynolds said the use of the equipment is being proposed “by misinformed attorneys for an undisclosed research project.”

In his remarks to Neeley, the doctor compared the use of the bone lead scans to the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” a 1932 study by the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, to record the natural history of syphilis.

The study was conducted without the benefit of patients’ informed consent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood” and they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness.

Read more on MLive:

Bone testing for lead expands in Flint but appointments fill up almost immediately

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds in line for appointment to Genesee County Health Board

Four takeaways from the Flint Water Advisory Task Force preliminary report

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