Randi Nord | The Pontiac Tribune
Alarmed by a new study, doctors are now urging Michigan residents to immediately stop drinking Flint water from the tap — because it contains enough lead to cause irreversible brain damage in children.
Flint, Michigan — Doctors at Hurley Medical Center in Flint are warning senior citizens, children, and pregnant women to immediately stop drinking from the Flint water supply because dangerous levels of lead have been detected.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s research found the percentage of Flint children under 5 years of age with elevated lead levels doubled following last year’s sourcing switch from Detroit water to Flint River water.
The city issued a lead advisory on Friday.
Then on Tuesday, Genesee County issued a public health advisory.
According to the County’s latest warning, lead exposure can damage a child’s brain while adults face possible hypertension, reduced sperm count, and an increased risk of miscarriage.
Despite all of this, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services denies there is a problem at all — and claims the elevated levels were simply “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”
This explanation sounds reasonable enough — if the city’s lead-based pipes weren’t, themselves, causing the toxic metal to leach into the residential supply for around 15,000 area homes.
As previous studies have shown: the water, itself, is safe to drink.
Water quality had been an initial concern for Flint residents, considering their experience with nearby industries that had previously used the river as a chemical dump.
“There’s the jokes of, oh you know, you never know what you’re going to find in the Flint River,” said Flint resident Chris Godine.
Flint’s mayor announced the city would be requesting $10 million from the State for removal and replacement of the lead-containing water service lines.
Donations of safe water for local school children began pouring into Flint School District as requested to aid the crisis — and over 4,000 gallons of bottled water have arrived so far.
Representative Dan Kildee (D – Flint) requested all necessary steps be taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and advised additional assistance may come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Kildee issued the following statement:
“Immediate action needs to be taken by the State of Michigan to ensure that relief is provided to people who are concerned about lead levels in their water. Today as part of my ongoing efforts, I talked with the EPA Region 5 Administrator about the State of Michigan providing emergency assistance, including lead-clearing filters and bottled water, until a more permanent solution can be determined.”
The Water is Not the Problem
Now we know the water, itself, is safe — but water isn’t the problem.
Researchers at Virginia Tech recently discovered the source of contamination for the Flint water supply: river water tends to contain far more sediment than lake water — so it needs more extensive treatment to filter out the lead.
Water from the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than supply sourced from Lake Huron, as had been done previously.
When this unusually potent water comes in contact with lead from service lines, pipes, or solder, it corrodes and sends that lead directly through your faucet as drinking water.
In fact, in October 2014, just six months after the switch, General Motors decided to stop using the Flint River as its water source over concerns that too much chloride in the water was making it extremely corrosive:
Mike Prysby, district engineer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said the level of chloride in treated Flint River water is easily within public health guidelines. He explained:
“Tests have shown Flint’s water in the range of 50 to 60 milligrams of chloride per liter, higher than the level considered excellent, which is less than 20 milligrams per liter, but lower than the level that’s considered objectionable, which is higher than 250 milligrams per liter.
“The city uses ferric chloride, which works as a coagulant, in river water to help remove suspended and dissolved solids and contaminants.”
A study by Hurley Medical Center found the highest concentrations of lead among children located in the 48503 and 48504 zip codes.
Incidentally, Governor Rick Snyder had 1,500 lead filters delivered to Flint last month — while state officials simultaneously praised the safety of Flint’s drinking water and vowed the supply is current for all federal regulatory standards and guidelines.
Of course, this was before Hurley Medical Center made its study results publicly available.
Is it possible Michigan State government knew about the lead in Flint water while residents continued to consume it — but kept that knowledge secret?
“It was clearly a failure of government agencies to do their job to protect the public,” said Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, who led the research.
Michigan Senate Minority Leader, Jim Ananich, asked Snyder to deliver a new contract that would allow Flint to return to purchasing its water supply from the city of Detroit.
“Immediate action needs to be taken by the State of Michigan to ensure that relief is provided to people who are concerned about lead levels in their water. Today as part of my ongoing efforts, I talked with the EPA Region 5 Administrator about the State of Michigan providing emergency assistance, including lead-clearing filters and bottled water, until a more permanent solution can be determined,” Ananich stated in a letter to Snyder.
Considering several events indicate at least the possibility government officials kept the public in the dark, providing lead filters is the least they could do. Literally. As
Congressman Dan Kildee plainly stated:
“Flint residents need and deserve immediate action to ensure the safety of their drinking water.”
State officials continue to deny cause for public concern as children’s lead levels haven’t climbed since the switch to source supply from the Flint River for supply — but those results included children as old as 15.
Lead poisoning inhibits child brain development and is virtually irreversible.
Children suffering from lead poisoning can experience:
- Loss of cognition
- Shortening of attention span
- Alteration of behavior
- Attention deficit disorder
- Renal impairment
- Toxicity to the reproductive organs
Lead poisoning can lead to:
- Reduced IQ
- Behavior or attention problems
- Failure at school
- Hearing problems
- Kidney damage
- Slowed growth rate
- A staggering gait
- Muscle weakness
Currently, pregnant women and children are advised not to drink Flint water or use it to mix infant formula until the problem is resolved — an endeavor which might take through 2017.
Crawling Towards a Permanent Solution
Genesee County is constructing a pipeline to import water from Lake Huron.
The Flint River was intended to be a temporary water source until completion of the pipeline in order to avoid the more costly lake Huron source via the Detroit Water and Sewage Department.
“This increase in costs would not be in the best interests of the city or its water users,” the emergency manager’s office stated in January of 2015.
The new pipeline is slated for completion around June 2016, but the new water treatment facility won’t be completed until the following year. Roughly 74 miles of pipeline estimated to cost $285 million will be included in the project.
Until then, residents will have to deal with the problem themselves — with a little help from those who researched the issue.
“Flint is the only city in America that I’m aware of that does not have a corrosion control plan,” said Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, who led the research team.
Virginia Tech researcher, Anurag Mantha, initiated a GoFundMe campaign to help supply the residents of Flint with lead water filters.
The approximate cost of one filter is $40 and the campaign has raised over $3,500 as of September 25th.
If state officials knew there was a problem for residents drinking Flint water last month, is it possible such a lackadaisical effort at preventing irreversible damage from lead poisoning traced to public drinking water be considered a criminal act?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.