Lead poisoning is irreversible. Flint children who tested with elevated levels will suffer lifelong consequences.



The main contributor of the Flint River’s high chloride concentrations, according to Edwards, is road salt combined with the natural salt content of the river and the additional chloride the city uses to clean the water. “In US cities where ice is a problem in winter, the average road salt use per person per year is 135 pounds,” he says. “It’s incredible. In many northeastern cities because of road salt use, salt content in rivers has doubled in the last 20 years.”

Long-term health consequences

Lead poisoning is irreversible. Pediatricians such as Hanna-Attisha fear the Flint children who tested with elevated levels will suffer lifelong consequences.

“If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generation and generations to come, it would be lead,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”

There are environmental actions that can help mitigate exposure such as proper nutrition and early childhood education. But that’s made more difficult in a city with inadequate resources and without a grocery store.

“We need some money for infrastructure,” said Weaver, who took office in November. “We’ve got to get all of these kids and all of these families the services they deserve because of what’s happened.”

According to local officials, about 40% of residents are below the poverty rate. Fifteen percent of homes are boarded up and abandoned. Weaver says the city of 100,000 doesn’t even have a grocery store. And now its residents don’t have clean water either.

In 2011, Flint was declared to be in a financial state of emergency, and the state took budgetary control. Therefore, all the decisions made during the water crisis were at the state level, which state officials confirmed, not by the City Council or the mayor.

“When the governor appointed an emergency financial manager (in 2011), that person came here … to simply do one thing and one thing only, and that’s cut the budget, at any cost,” said Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee.

Kildee said the water crisis is indicative of an attitude about industrial towns such as Flint that have seen hard times in the past 30 years. They’re often just forgotten, he said.

“This case shows that you can’t treat cities the way you treat some corporation that you might just sort of sell off,” Kildee said.

In an attempt to save money, Flint stopped sourcing drinking water from Detroit on April 25, 2014, switching instead to the Flint River. In December, Walters alerted city and state officials to the presence of lead in her home water supply. When they failed to take decisive action, she turned to Marc Edwards, a renowned expert on water treatment and corrosion at Virginia Tech, whose prior research forced the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to acknowledge publishing a “scientifically indefensible” report about Washington DC’s compromised municipal water supply.



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