Flint bone scan device dispute heats up in water cases

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Lawyers defend use of handheld device to screen Flint residents for lead, despite maker’s warning that it wasn’t designed for the job

The bone scan device has been a source of controversy in a $641 million settlement with people exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint.

Some doctors think the device is risky, especially for children. Meanwhile, lawyers who don’t have access have complained that their clients could lose higher compensation without bone scan results.

The manufacturer, Thermo Fisher Scientific, said in a May 12 letter that the device was not designed to measure bone lead levels in people, although the company supported research to a “limited number of opportunities” with universities. The company’s website says the device is generally intended for mining and exploration.

The letter was sent to law firm Napoli Shkolnik, which has used the device extensively on Flint clients who volunteer, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“That’s a pretty powerful statement, because obviously the manufacturer would make more money selling more,” said Mark Cuker, a rival Flint lawyer who provided the letter to the newspaper.

In a recent court filing, attorneys Paul Napoli and Corey Stern defended the device and attached expert affidavits.

“Use of the device poses no risk to patients and no lead shielding is required when administering the exam,” said Yuwonia Speights-Beaugard, director of radiology services at Hurley Medical. Flint Center, who visited the site where the scans are performed.

Thousands of Flint residents have signed part of a $641 million settlement, mostly paid for by the state of Michigan, over 2014-15 lead-tainted water and a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak .

The settlement has received preliminary approval from a federal judge, but there is still a lot of work to do, including a fairness hearing in July.

Cuker complained that only customers in Naples had access to the bone scan device.

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a Flint pediatrician who opposed the device, said there was no evidence anyone was harmed, but he considers the use unethical. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, credited with helping expose Flint’s water crisis, also opposes the use of the scanner.

Bone scan results are not required to make a claim in Flint’s settlement, but residents “could voluntarily undergo this process based on the advice of their attorneys,” said Lynsey Mukomel, spokesperson for the Michigan attorney general.

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