Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell
Flint and Lead
September 27, 2015
This week hospital researchers confirmed that Flint water is poisoning children. After sustained concern from water activists and parents questing the quality of Flint water, Hurley Children’s Hospital did a study comparing levels of lead in children before and after the decision to leave the Detroit Water System. Researchers found that the percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels in some zip codes have nearly doubled since the city left the Detroit Water system. In fact the data shows that there is more lead in Flint’s water than at any time in the last twenty years.
The number of children with elevated blood-lead levels after the switch to the Flint River water jumped from 2.1% in the 20 months prior to Sept. 15, 2013, to 4.0% between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15 this year. In certain ZIP Codes, the change was even more troubling, jumping from 2.5% of the children tested to 6.3%.
Lead poisoning is irreversible. There is no fix. Children will carry the scars of this contamination for the rest of their lives. Lead in their bodies causes serious developmental and neurological problems, reducing children’s IQ levels and frequently resulting in emotional and behavioral problems.
Earlier last week investigative reporters Curt Guyette and Kate Levy released a hard-hitting video documenting the ongoing water crisis in Flint. Residents chronicle the many health issues they are facing because of the poor quality of their water. Skin rashes, hair loss, and nausea are wide spread conditions. Flint water is brown and smells terrible.
This reality has been consistently denied by those responsible for the safety of water in Flint. Earlier in the summer the crisis reached the point where the Flint City Council voted to return to the Detroit Water System. The Emergency Manager of Flint, in his final order before returning power to the Mayor denied the request of the City Council. The Mayor has continued to support the decision of the Emergency Manager and the Governor.
While authorities refused to act, saying it was too expensive to return to Detroit, grass roots community organizers persisted. They, along with the help of the ACLU of Michigan began a systematic program to document the risks they were facing. Community groups collected water samples from their homes and sent them to researchers at Virginia Tech for independent analysis.
That analysis revealed alarmingly high levels of lead in the water along with other toxins.
The problems with the Flint Water System continue to be denied by the Governor, his appointees and State environmental authorities. It is only because of the persistent, urgent work of Water Rights Advocates that any of this information is coming forward now. Even this latest study is being treated without serious consideration.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services challenged the Hurley data, saying that the spike in the percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels is a seasonal anomaly that is not related to the water supply,
City officials have previously defended the decision to leave the Detroit Water system as a cost-saving measure for Flint; Detroit Water and Sewerage Department rates were expected to increase, and local officials believe that creating a new system will yield long-term savings. The state legislature and the Governor have pushed this new system, laying pipes directly over top of those of the Detroit system rather than repairing them.
Underlying the tragedy in Flint is the same thinking underlying the tragedy of water shut offs in Detroit. Those in authority have no sense of responsibility to any thing other than corporate profits. People are expendable. Our lives do not matter.
What should be unthinkable is becoming commonplace. This callous and cruel system cannot be allowed to continue. It is killing all of us.