The mayor of Detroit has declared a state of emergency regarding Flint’s water system. In 2014, the city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. Residents were quick to complain about the odor and appearance of the water, and earlier this year, a notice from the city indicated that there has been too much disinfection byproduct in Flint’s water. If used for many years, the byproduct could cause damage to the liver, kidney or central nervous system. The city’s response came as a result a warning from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, which stated that the city’s water was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act for maximum contaminant levels for trihalomethanes (TTHM).
In September, doctors from the Hurly Medical Center presented the findings of a blood study of children under five years old living within the Flint zip codes after the switch to Flint River water. Their research found a rise in blood lead levels, which they attribute to the lead in water. The doctors cited the water as an increasing source because of aging infrastructures, change in water sources, and disinfectant uses.
The “Detroit Free Press reported that avoiding Flint water became a way of life” as “those who could afford it opted for bottled water,” while “those who couldn’t spare the money drank it straight from the tap.”[i]
An recent study conducted by elementary schools students at City school in Grand Blanc, MI in partnership with Virginia Tech University found elevated lead in water samples from Flint water. “There were 5 groups of students from City School, and each group had a jar into which they poured Flint water or Detroit water.” The jars included lead-bearing plumbing intended to simulate the effect of chemistry in pipes of old homes with lead solder. The samples were sent to Virginia Tech researchers who used an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer to test lead levels. “The elementary school students visual and experimental data, confirm that the Flint River water (without inhibitor) is much more corrosive to lead than Detroit water.”[ii]
Prior to Flint’s switch from Detroit to Flint River, 2.1% of children five years and under had elevated blood levels (EBLs) for lead. After the switch 4.0% of children had EBLs. In areas with the highest water lead levels the percentage increased from 1.5% pre-switch to 4.4% post-switch.
Lead can have irreversible affects on children’s brain development that can permanently reduce a person’s IQ, as well as shorten attention spans and increase antisocial behavior. Lead can also cause anemia, hypertension, renal impairment and immunotoxicity and toxicity to reproductive organs.
The doctors recommended that area infants and pregnant mothers avoid tap water, that the city distribute lead clearing NSF-approved filters, and that the city connect to Lake Huron water source.
Following demonstrations by area citizens and mounting scientific evidence, the city switched Flint back to Detroit’s water system in October 2015.
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