FLINT, Mich. — Lawyers are defending the use of a handheld device to check for lead in Flint residents, despite the manufacturer’s warning that it wasn’t designed for that work.
The bone scan device has been a source of controversy in a $641 million settlement with people who were exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint.
Some doctors believe the device is risky, especially for children. Meanwhile, lawyers without access to one have complained that their clients could lose out on higher compensation without bone scan results.
The maker, Thermo Fisher Scientific, said in a May 12 letter that the device wasn’t designed to measure bone lead levels in people, though the company has supported research on a “limited number of occasions” with universities. The company’s website says the device typically is for mining and exploration.
The letter was sent to Napoli Shkolnik law firm, which has extensively used the device on Flint clients who volunteer, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“That’s a pretty powerful statement, because the manufacturer would obviously make more money selling more of these,” said Mark Cuker, a rival attorney in Flint who provided the letter to the newspaper.
In a recent court filing, attorneys Paul Napoli and Corey Stern defended the device and attached affidavits from experts.
“There is no risk to patients from the use of the device and no lead shielding is required while administering the exam,” said Yuwonia Speights-Beaugard, director of radiology services at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, who has visited the site where scans are performed.
Thousands of Flint residents have signed up for a portion of a $641 million lawsuit settlement, mostly paid by the state of Michigan, for lead-contaminated water in 2014-15 and a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The settlement has received preliminary approval by a federal judge but much work remains, including a fairness hearing in July.
Cuker has complained that only Napoli clients have had access to the bone scan device.
Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a Flint pediatrician who has objected to the device, said there is no evidence that anyone has been harmed, but he considers the use unethical. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, credited with helping expose the Flint water crisis, also opposes use of the scanner.
Bone scan results are not required to make a claim in the Flint settlement, but residents “could voluntarily undergo that process based upon the advice of their lawyers,” said Lynsey Mukomel, spokeswoman for the Michigan attorney general.