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Billerica company loans portable lead testing machines to Flint doctors

Analyzers made by Magellan Diagnostics Inc., of Billerica were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 for use in doctors’ offices. contributed photo

A privately held Billerica company, which calls itself “the most trusted name in lead testing,” has loaned dozens of its portable analyzers to doctors in Flint, Mich., to help them cope with the public health crisis stemming from lead-contaminated drinking water.

Magellan Diagnostics Inc. said it is working with Michigan’s Genesee County Health Department to distribute the five-pound LeadCare II analyzers to pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists in Flint who are testing children and pregnant women for lead poisoning.

The company began shipping its machines to Michigan last month when it became aware of the extent of the crisis, said Magellan president Amy Winslow. She said the analyzers already have been used to test more then 1,000 people. Lead contamination rates in Flint have been double or triple the rates in the rest of the country, according to health officials there.


“What Flint shows is the importance of awareness,” Winslow said in an interview. “Parents, doctors, and communities are becoming aware that lead is still a problem in our environment. It’s in the paint in our houses, it’s in the soil in our playgrounds, and it’s in the water pipes.”

Magellan’s analyzers, which carry a list price of $2,400, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 for use in doctors’ offices. The company, founded in the 1970s by four scientists developing lead detection technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has sold the product to more than 6,000 doctors’ offices across the country.

Doctors prick the fingers of patients, draw two drops of blood, and mix them with a reagent solution that breaks open the red blood cells for testing. Samples are then put on a test strip and inserted into Magellan’s analyzers for rapid results.

“We’re trying to put more of these analyzers in the hands of doctors,” Winslow said. “They’re small and portable and easy to use. They take a test that used to have to be done in a lab and now it can be done in a doctor’s office. And instead of waiting days or weeks, you can get the results in three minutes.”


Robert Weisman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.