A fight against time continues as thousands drink lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan

Lead, a lethal chemical, has contaminated water in the city of Flint, Michigan. Citizens are outraged as revelations of government malpractice surface.

Water is what citizens most fear in the US city of Flint, Michigan as lead contamination has caused physical and mental health issues for local consumers. According to them these include skin lesions, hair loss, high levels of lead in the blood, vision loss, memory loss, depression and anxiety. President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency, releasing up to $5 million in aid. Notwithstanding the response and the fact that what started the crisis is now clear, definitive solutions still seem out of reach.

What happened

A Flint hospital discovered that the percentage of children with elevated lead levels has nearly doubled, while other findings show lead levels 10 times higher than previously measured, after the city began sourcing its water from the Flint River in April 2014 instead of using nearby Detroit’s water system. The move was a temporary money saving measure until Flint could find a way to get its water from the Great Lakes, five interconnected freshwater lakes that straddle the border between the Unites States and Canada, independently. Sadly, the water from the river was never treated with a corrosion inhibitor, which could have prevented lead from leaching from old pipes.

flint river
The Flint River © Jeno/Flickr

The City of Flint

Flint’s struggles predate the water contamination disaster, afflicting the city for the past two decades. It was the original home of US vehicle manufacturer General Motors, with a population of 200,000, but the increasing automation of the industry and job outsourcing led to the loss of 80,000 jobs and the halving of its population. Now, forty percent of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, as data from the US Census Bureau indicates (here is also a guide to navigating the census website).



The Governor knew

The office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was aware of problems such as water discoloration, bad taste and the smell of “organic matter” even before tests in certain areas revealed lead concentration to be twice the levels considered to be toxic waste, and public officials recommended that every child in the city should be treated as if they had been poisoned. In November 2015 Flint’s citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against the Governor, the State of Michigan and City of Flint.

Flint mayor Karen Weaver is foreseeing the need for more special education and mental health funding because of the detrimental and permanent impact of lead on human health. In fact, there are no safe levels of lead and its effects are devastating. As a neurotoxin that kills brain cells, it is especially dangerous for babies, young children, the elderly and pregnant women, whose offspring face heightened risk of permanent cognitive-impaired functioning.



Switching back to Detroit’s water source hasn’t solved the problem as the pipes are still leaching lead. Citizens are opting for bottled water, which is in part provided by the US National Guard, and will hopefully win their legal battle. In the end, all they’re asking for is clean and safe water.


Featured image: © Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

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