A Michigan health official told Congress that his department’s “initial analysis” showed blood lead levels in Flint children in the summer of 2014 were “within range of years before.” That’s false. That analysis concluded blood lead levels “were higher than usual” from July to September 2014, shortly after the city switched its water supply.
On April 25, 2014, the city of Flint began using the Flint River as its water source, as reported in the Detroit Free Press. But the Flint River has particularly corrosive water, which led to high levels of lead leaching into the water from many of the city’s dated pipes. Soon after the water supply switch, Flint residents began complaining about the color of the water, rashes and other issues.
Then, in July 2015 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality told Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder that issues with water contamination in Flint were limited to one house and not widespread. At the same time, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed the elevated blood lead levels in children followed a normal seasonal trend.
The link between Flint’s water switch and elevated blood lead levels in children wasn’t confirmed until two independent researchers, Marc Edwards and Mona Hanna-Attisha, each put forth their own analyses in September 2015.
If you haven’t been keeping up, Flint, Michigan has been in the news lately due to its toxic tap water. Two years ago, to cut costs, the state decided to switch Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron (which they were paying the city of Detroit for), to the Flint River, a notorious tributary that runs through town known to locals for its filth. The results are not surprising.
Turns out the water is highly toxic, and highly corrosive. Researchers discovered more than double the normal levels of lead in children’s blood samples. From the Washington Post:
The city of Flint, Mich., is in the midst of a water crisis several years in the making. The city opted out of Detroit’s water supply and began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014, part of a cost-saving move. Eighteen months later, in the fall of 2015, researchers discovered that the proportion of children with above-average lead levels in their blood had doubled.
The city reconnected to Detroit’s water system in October, but the damage was done. Water from the Flint River was found to be highly corrosive to the lead pipes still used in some parts of the city. Even though Flint River water no longer flows through the city’s pipes, it’s unclear how long those pipes will continue to leach unsafe levels of lead into the tap water supply. Experts currently say the water is safe for bathing, but not drinking.
A group of Virginia Tech researchers who sampled the water in 271 Flint homes last summer found some contained lead levels high enough to meet the EPA’s definition of “toxic waste.”
Importantly, the lead contamination in the water can have adverse health effects. Just this week, Flint has also reported a spike in reported cases of Legionnaires disease in the area. While there isn’t enough evidence to directly link this to the contaminated water, it could be a potential reason for the spike.
My $0.02… when it comes to health and safety, it is wise to NOT cut costs. As a result of trying to save some money, now Flint is dealing with far greater issues including irreversible damage to the health of its residents and water supply infrastructure. Fixing these problems will be far more costly…