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Public health and water quality experts begin 18-month plan to address risk for Legionnaires’ disease in Flint

July 7, 2016


The Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP), a multi-institutional team of environmental engineering and public health experts led by Wayne State University, today announced it will implement phase two of its independent study evaluating the possible link between Flint’s water system and an increase in reported Legionnaires’ disease cases in Flint and Genesee County. 

Phase one of the study was completed in May after FACHEP finalized an assessment of the resources needed in Flint and Genesee County to understand the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. The team — which includes nationally renowned experts in engineering and water quality, epidemiological investigation, microbiology, social work, and public health communication — has begun implementing an 18-month plan to address community risk for Legionnaires’ disease.

“During the next two years, FACHEP will work with local, state and federal health officials to actively explore and address the threat of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint and Genesee County,” said Shawn McElmurry, FACHEP’s lead principal investigator and environmental and civil engineering professor in Wayne State’s College of Engineering.

McElmurry outlined three critical areas experts will focus on during phase two of the study. 

“With input from the community and a number of health care partners in Flint and Genesee County, we developed a three-pronged approach to investigating the cause of these outbreaks and reducing the community risk of more illness in the future,” said McElmurry. “Environmental monitoring of the water supply, enhanced environmental monitoring of at-risk populations, and open communications are the areas FACHEP will focus its resources on over the next year.”

Environmental sampling, testing and monitoring of water in Flint households will be led by McElmurry, who has extensive experience working in Flint, where he has led multiple sampling campaigns and evaluated the area’s ongoing drinking water quality crisis. He will be conducting environmental assessments of water sources in statistically representative homes in Flint beginning this summer.

Paul Kilgore from Wayne State’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences will lead effforts to provide technical assistance in epidemiologic surveillance for Legionnaires’ disease. Most notably, he will work with local health care providers, the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD), and state and federal partners to reach populations most at risk for Legionnaires’ disease.

“We value our collaborative relationship with WSU in supporting GCHD’s work to prevent Legionnaire’s disease in Genesee County. GCHD looks forward to future collaborations and research projects with WSU,” said Mark Valacak, MPH health officer.

Community engagement, communication and social services support will be led by Kettering University’s Laura Sullivan, WSU communication professor and crisis and emergency risk expert Matthew Seeger, and WSU social work professor Dr. Joanne Sobeck. FACHEP will help provide social-behavioral support by connecting to existing local and state resources during household visits to collect water samples. Additionally, the team will work with community leaders and service organizations to identify high-risk groups, including the disabled and the elderly, to enhance understanding of Legionnaires’ disease.

FACHEP is a team led by Wayne State researchers specializing in environmental engineering and public health conducting an independent study to evaluate the possible association between changes in Flint’s water system and public health, specifically the recent Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. The team includes participants from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Colorado State University and Henry Ford Hospital. Funding for phase two of FACHEP’s independent study is provided through a contract between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Wayne State University.