By Todd Spangler

Federal officials announced Tuesday that Michigan State University will receive a $14.4-million grant over four years to track children and adults exposed to lead contamination as a result of the Flint water crisis to monitor their health.

In a separate development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its concurrence with the State of Michigan's plans to forgive $20.7 million in loans made to Flint in the past to improve its water infrastructure.

Both the funding and the loan forgiveness were part of legislation approved by Congress late last year to address concerns related to Flint and the water crisis there. Lead levels in the tap water spiked after the city switched water sources and the state failed to require corrosion control treatments to keep lead from leaching out of old pipes.

"Forgiving Flint's past debt will better protect public health and reduce the costs associated with maintaining the city's water system," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "Forgiving the city's debt will ensure that Flint will not need to resume payments on the loan, allowing progress toward updating Flint's water system to continue."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made the announcement that Michigan State would receive $3.2 million for the first year's installment of the $14.4-million grant to create a registry of residents exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint. Working with city officials, community organizations and other groups, Michigan State will address health concerns and monitor residents for adverse effects.

"Flint residents will benefit from having their health monitored over time and from being readily connected to services that will help reduce the health effects of lead exposure. Information collected by the registry will guide important health decisions and recommendations for the City of Flint and the State of Michigan for years to come," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Lead exposure can cause problems for adults as well as children, and no level of lead is considered safe for humans. In children, lead poisoning can hurt IQ levels and impact the ability to pay attention. The Flint registry will track registrants' data on exposure, health and childhood developmental milestones and link that information with their participation in local services.

"The registry will be a powerful tool to understand, measure and improve the lives of those exposed to the contaminated water," said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the MSU-Hurley Children's Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, who will lead the registry effort. "The more people who participate in the registry, the more powerful this tool will be for Flint and for communities everywhere that continue to suffer from preventable lead exposure."

Hanna-Attisha was one of the first to raise the alarm about the impact water quality could be having in Flint, producing reports that indicated lead levels in children's blood samples had spiked after the city switched water supplies in April 2014.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, called the lead registry "a critical step to ensuring Flint residents exposed to lead during the crisis get the health care and other resources needed to mitigate the effects of lead exposure."

"I commend Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and her colleagues for their work and continued research through Michigan State University and the Hurley Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative in Flint," he said. "Their work will help Flint families and support our community's long-term recovery. After fighting so hard for these resources in Congress, I am pleased to see this lead registry become a reality."

Earlier this year, the state Department of Environmental Quality reported that lead levels in Flint water tested below federal limits for action but continued to recommend that residents use filtered or bottled water for drinking or cooking as efforts to replace pipes throughout the city continued.

(c)2017 the Detroit Free Press