According to the World Health Organization:
Lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.
That’s exactly what is happening to the entire town of Flint, Michigan at the hands of some politicians who refuse to put people ahead of politics. The Hurley Medical Center, in Flint, published a study that outlines above-average levels of lead in the blood of infants and children in the city. The town switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as its main water source back in 2014. The Flint River is polluted and the water treatment center is inadequate at best.
Surprise! Lead poisoning!
The study outlining the problem came out in September, but Governor Snyder and state officials denied that the Flint River and the water was causing the problem of elevated lead levels. Dave Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, said that changing Flint’s water source “would not address the issues raised by some people in the community.”
The health and safety of our residents is always the first priority, and that includes ensuring clean, safe drinking water, especially for children. The state continues to work with Flint leaders on their water questions, including through Mayor Walling’s technical advisory board. That board includes outside experts and studies data and offers recommendations. The Department of Environmental Quality and the (DHHS) also are testing water and working with Flint residents on issues related to what they can do if they have concerns about the pipes in their homes.
One week later, Snyder started whistling a different tune. In fact, Snyder secretly helped deliver water filters to pastors in the community to protect certain people. The pastors even admitted that the governor’s office asked them not to speak about the filters and at the same time the staffers were saying publicly that the city’s water was safe and met all regulatory standards.
If this was PG&E and Erin Brockovich was collecting documents it would have taken her half an hour to have an open and shut case. In fact, Brockovich spoke out on it when the study was released saying, “everyone keeps passing the buck and I guess everyone thinks that the situation in Flint will go away. It’s not.” But it isn’t just the politics at the state and local level where she sees the problem.
Water is the most important thing, is all of our lives, and there is obviously a crisis in this country that we aren’t paying attention to at a national level,” Brockovich said. “These people need clean water. They don’t need it tomorrow, they need it today, they needed it yesterday.
On October 8, Snyder finally admitted there was a problem and announced a plan for finding $12 million to move Flint back to the clean water Detroit system. The following week, water started flowing again from Detroit to Flint. A few weeks later, Flint elected a new mayor who pledged to take care of the water problem.
But these solutions were too little too late for parents whose children now have lead poisoning. So, tens of thousands of Flint residents filed a class action lawsuit, last month, naming Snyder, the state and local government as well as 13 other officials alleging that they “deliberately deprived” Flint of their Fourteenth Amendment rights when they replaced safe drinking water with cheaper and knowingly more toxic water and then lied about it. The suit reads
For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed [residents] to extreme toxicity. The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant.
Understandably, the children must now undergo treatment for lead poisoning and have likely already undergone treatment for misdiagnosed symptoms that arose as a result of the poisoning. The Mayo Clinic lists two treatments for lead poisoning: one is medication focused that bonds to the lead in the blood so that you pee it out. The second, EDTA therapy administers weak synthetic amino acids gradually to reduce or simply dissolve them. I couldn’t find the costs associated with either of these treatments, though, presumably, the latter is the more expensive of the two as it involves more process and procedures. It’s possible some children were saved from the exposure, but some will not as fortunate and may suffer lasting problems that continue well into adulthood.
On the evening of December 14, the mayor of Flint declared an official state of emergency, specifically citing the damage and irreversible effects on the city’s children. If Governor Snyder wouldn’t do it, she would keep her election promise and ensure residents get the help they need.
“Do we meet the criteria [for a disaster area]? I don’t know,” she told Michigan Live. But they need all the help they can get.
What a disaster declaration will do is similar to what you see in the event of a natural disaster like a flood or a tornado. For example, Michigan State Police Lt. Billie Jo Roach knew of the availability of water from the Federal Emergency Management Agency who quickly delivered 28,000 liters of bottled water to the people of Flint. A disaster declaration would have to be requested by the governor to President Obama for the federal government to get involved. Since 1953, FEMA has only done disaster relief for natural disasters with the exception of a few industry related disasters.
It’s probably unlikely Snyder would ask for something like that because it would be admitting he can’t manage the crisis and Michigan would need to be bailed out by President Obama for their own negligence. Only time will tell if the people of Flint get the services they need to help treat their children and keep them safe in the future. There is a pretty substantial paper trail that unveils the carelessness by the state so, hopefully, these families can settle a lawsuit quickly that gives them some relief. My fear is that it will drag on and on and on forever. The people of Flint deserve better than that.
Featured image by Pontiac Tribune