As activists will remind you, the city of Flint, MI, has been without clean water for three years and five months, and we're beginning to see the long-term health effects of this crisis. Thanks to a recent study, the damage Flint city officials set in motion when they switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (now called the Great Lakes Water Authority) to Karegnondi Water Authority back in 2014 is becoming clear.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the study examined statistics data for Flint and the rest of Michigan from 2008 to 2015, and what they discovered is as heartbreaking as it is infuriating. The fertility rates of women living in Flint, Michigan have reportedly dropped by 12 percent since April 2014, and fetal deaths in Flint have risen by 58 percent since the city switched water sources over three years ago. The researchers also discovered that, on average, babies born in Flint over the past few years were about 150 grams lighter than those born in other parts of Michigan, were born half a week earlier, and gained five pounds less per week than babies born in other parts of the state.
But as scary as all of this is, it’s also not terribly surprising. The fact is, no level of lead is “safe” in the body, and Flint city officials have known about the high lead levels in residents’ homes since February 2015, when a city test found lead contents of 104 parts per billion in one resident's home. Since 15 parts per billion is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) limit for lead in drinking water, it's unavoidable that Flint’s water supply may have harmful effects on women and their fetuses.
As the CDC states on their website, lead exposure can cause slowed growth and development, learning and behavioral problems, hearing and speech problems, and it damages both the brain and the nervous system. In fact, lead is so toxic that lead pills were sometimes used to terminate pregnancies back in the 1800s. Yet the people of Flint, Michigan were drinking, cooking with, and bathing in lead-contaminated water for more than a year before the EPA issued an emergency order regarding the city’s water supply in January 2015. It was nearly a year after that, in the winter of 2015, before Flint’s own mayor declared the city’s water crisis a state of emergency. And it wasn’t until January 2016, nearly two years after the water crisis began, that then-president Barack Obama and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Genesee county due to dangerous lead levels in Flint’s drinking water. And this is all despite the fact that people in Flint were complaining about the smell and color of their water merely one month after the city changed water suppliers.
What’s perhaps the most upsetting part about all of this is the fact that over 40 percent of Flint’s population live below the poverty line, and now they’re dealing with the long term health effects of lead-poisoning — simply because city officials wanted to save money on water, and then save even more money by not adding anti-corrosives to the city’s new water supply.
On Sept. 15, an expert on the water supply in Flint took to City Hall to declare a "qualified end" to the water crisis, stating that the lead levels in the water are "now back to normal levels for a city with old lead pipes," according to the AP. But this doesn't mean the crisis is now over. "There is still a crisis of confidence among Flint residents that's not going to be restored anytime soon," the expert, Virginia Tech researcher Mark Edwards said. "It can only be addressed by years of trustworthy behavior by government agencies, who unfortunately lost that trust, deservedly, in the first place." That trust may never be restored, now that the next generation of Flint residents will forever be impacted by lead in their water.