Experts conclude Flint River might have caused skin rashes

The Flint Water Plant tower is seen, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 in Flint, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The improperly treated river water that Flint residents bathed and cleaned with for 1½ years may have caused skin rashes that possibly worsened because people became physically and mentally stressed and changed their hygiene over concerns about the water, federal and state officials said Tuesday.

The months-long, joint investigation found no definitive link between the Michigan city’s 2014 switch to the Flint River and rashes because of a lack of water samples from that time.

But Dr. Nicole Lurie with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said a team of chemical exposure experts and dermatologists “found evidence supporting Flint residents’ concern that water from the Flint River might have led to skin problems.” Lurie said the city’s current water from Lake Huron, to which Flint returned in October amid a lead contamination crisis, does not contain metals and minerals at levels known to be associated with skin problems.

After the water supply was changed in April 2014 while the city was under state emergency management, residents began complaining about rashes, hair loss and the water’s color, odor and taste. People reported rashes before and after the switch back to a Detroit-area water system.

Dr. Walter Barkey, one of four Flint-area dermatologists who volunteered to help with the probe, said “marked fluctuations” in pH/acidity, hardness and chlorine levels while the Flint River was the water source “could really explain the most common type of rash found in the study which was eczema.”

The study included roughly 400 people who were surveyed by investigators.

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