Flint city employee flushes out a hydrant. Photo from CNN.com
In a cost-cutting move two years ago, the city of Flint, MI switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Unfortunately, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) did not take into account that water from the river has 8 times more chloride than the lake water, which makes it highly corrosive. MDEQ failed to treat this river water with an anti-corrosive agent, so it started eroding the old iron and lead water pipes throughout Flint, leading to water coming into homes with lead, iron, and other contaminants.
Laboratory results lead by an independent Virginia Tech investigation have found that Flint homes have significant levels of lead. No level of lead in drinking water is considered safe for children to consume, and EPA requires municipal action if more than 10% of customer taps exceed 15ppb lead concentrations.
Lead poisoning can lead to very serious health consequences and is irreversible. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was the first physician in Flint to speak out about the health effects of the contaminated water her patients were drinking.
“If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generation and generations to come, it would be lead,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”
State of Emergency
The State of Michigan has now declared a State of Emergency for Flint, and the National Guard is heading door-to-door to hand out bottled water and water filters. Flint has switched its water source back to Lake Huron, but the corroded pipes are still leaching lead, iron, and other contaminants into the water supply.
Michigan’s Attorney General and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have opened up investigations to determine who is responsible for this crisis and which laws were broken. Michigan’s Health Department is investigating whether an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is related to the contaminated water. MDEQ’s director Dan Wyant resigned on December 29th, and Flint residents are calling on Governor Rick Snyder also to resign. Health officials will track 10,000 Flint children who may have been poisoned by these contaminants. Health effects from lead poisoning may take years to develop.
Virginia Tech’s Flint Water Study
“How Tap Water Became Toxic in Flint, Michigan,” CNN.com, January 13, 2016.
“Michigan Prosecutor Opens Probe of Flint Water Crisis,” NBCnews.com, January 15, 2016.