The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is unraveling, and residents are suffering. A state of emergency was declared in Flint on January 5, 2016 over dangerously high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. According to a 2015 Virginia Tech survey that analyzed 252 first draw water samples from Flint households, 40.1 percent contained over five parts per billion (ppb) of lead. Some samples exceeded 100 ppb and one household exceeded 1,000 ppb of lead in the water. From the samples collected in the survey and tested at Virginia Tech, Flint’s 90th percentile lead value was 25 ppb. The Environmental Protection Agency considers homes to be at risk when the water contains 15 ppb of lead.
Researchers at Virginia Tech noted that any amount of lead in drinking water is cause for concern: “The 90th percentile lead level is currently 25.2 ppb, which is over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard applied to homes with “worst case” lead plumbing, and in a range where water consumption has caused lead poisoning in children and led to adverse pregnancy outcomes.”
President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency for Flint on January 16. President Obama also announced that roughly $80 million will be allocated to the state of Michigan, with portions of the funding to go toward Flint’s water infrastructure, such as replacing lead pipes. However, it was poor decision making on the part of state and federal officials that allowed this crisis to arise in the first place. The EPA accepted the resignation of Susan Hedman, the Region 5 administrator for Flint, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder acknowledged his failings in handling the water crisis in Flint. “I’m sorry and I will fix it,” he said. “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.” In light of recently released emails from Snyder to various health officials, as well as government agency apologies, it seems residents’ concerns over water safety, until recently, have fallen on deaf ears. Since as far back as 2014, residents have expressed a growing concern over the safety of Flint’s water, citing an unusual odor, taste and color to their household water supply.
How did this happen? During the spring of 2014, the city of Flint appointed an emergency manager to oversee the water system. In an effort to cut costs, the city adopted a new plan that entailed pumping water from the Flint River, in lieu of purchasing it from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department while awaiting their own pipeline from Lake Huron to be completed. The water from the Flint River was then supposed to be treated at the Flint water treatment plant. Flint’s potable water supply subsequently became contaminated, reportedly due to negligence by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which admitted to not treating the water with the proper chemicals.
The lead contamination has had a devastating impact on the health of Flint residents, especially the children. The corrosiveness of the undertreated water from the Flint River caused lead from the city’s aging pipes to leach into the water supply. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning, which affects nearly every part of the body with little to no initial symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). Interestingly, the CDC’s “Data, Statistics and Surveillance” offers no data on Michigan for “percent of children tested” and “percent of children with elevated blood lead levels” after 2008.
According to Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, any child in Flint who has consumed the city’s water has been exposed to lead. That number is estimated at 8,657 children, according to Census data. Even small amounts of lead exposure can have long-lasting effects on children. The CDC states, “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.” The CDC also recommends that the best way to protect children is to prevent lead exposure in the first place, which all levels of government failed to do in Flint.
Surprisingly, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) conducted testing on 2,182 Flint residents between October and December of 2015, it found only 43 people with elevated levels of lead in their blood. Good news? Not really, since the levels of lead in the bloodstream significantly decrease after 30 to 60 days of exposure, according to the CDC. The figures did not show whether lead poisoning had already occurred.
What actions are in place for Flint residents? Despite growing criticism aimed at Governor Snyder, he continues to dodge calls for his resignation. Instead, Snyder plans on appealing President Obama’s refusal to declare the Flint water crisis a national disaster. This may be due to the increased federal funding it would appropriate. Snyder is also targeting public facilities and schools for pipe and faucet replacement.
Karen Weaver, Flint’s mayor, appears to be stepping up in order to find solutions for residents. Mayor Weaver added in an NPR interview that the Flint population is comprised of mostly African Americans living below the poverty line, which, she suggested, “had a lot to do with the response” to the water crisis. Weaver met with President Obama and discussed FEMA intervention, as well as the need for bottled water and filters in the short term, according to news reports.
Weaver also commented on the 274 emails released by Governor Snyder following a public and political outcry. “You know what, I’m glad those high-profile figures are out there, and they’re putting the pressure on the governor and holding him accountable for some things,” Weaver told NPR. “What I’ve said is, we have an investigation going on and I can’t wait to hear the results of that investigation because everybody that should be held accountable needs to be held accountable.”
Flint has returned to sourcing its water from Lake Huron via Detroit, but the condition of the city’s water pipes and household lines remains a problematic issue. The crisis in Flint has left many people across the U.S. wondering about the safety of their own water supply. Could this be happening elsewhere? Our trust in federal, state and local governments to approach public health with the utmost integrity may not be wise. Do you know where your water comes from and how it is treated?
A safe source of water is vital to health. Purchasing a water filter for your household could be a safer alternative to just flipping that faucet on and putting all your trust in the ability of politicians to do the right thing. Using the Berkey water filter system is one way you can ensure safe, clean drinking water for your household. Berkey water filters are highly effective and come in different sizes depending on your needs.
Clean water is essential for life, and everyone deserves to have access to safe, clean water. We can all do our part and help the residents of Flint during their time of crisis and need.
Here are a few ways to give:
- Flint Water Fund is accepting donations for water filters and bottled water.
- Flint Water Response Team has ways to donate and volunteer.
- Flint Child Health and Development Fund is accepting donations to assist the children exposed to lead through health and support outreach.
- Catholic Charities of Genesee County are accepting donations, water filters and bottled water for Flint residents.
- Crowdrise campaign, set up by entertainer Big Sean, is accepting donations to the Sean Anderson Foundation, which is raising funds on behalf of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint Michigan.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, professor, adventurer and a health & fitness guru. His flair for travel and outdoor adventure allows him to enjoy culture and traditions different than his own. A healthy diet, routine fitness and constant mental development is the cornerstone to Stephen’s life.