President Obama has declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan after a water contamination crisis produced a spike in lead poisoning and other health issues, including possibly Legionnaire’s disease, in the city. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate relief efforts and provide disaster aid, such as clean water, filters, and water test kits.
An estimated 9,000 children under six years old, in a city of only about 100,000 people, were exposed to lead after drinking poisoned water in Flint, and around 200 children are said to have “elevated blood lead levels.” Lead poisoning in children can lead to low IQ and developmental problems, hearing loss, and learning difficulties, among other things. In adults, lead poisoning is linked to miscarriage or premature birth, low sperm count, pain, and decline in mental functioning.
Flint’s problems began in April 2014 when Darnell Earley, an emergency manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, switched the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to a local river in order to save money. Almost immediately, Flint’s residents, who are predominately African-American, raised concerns about the water’s smell, taste, and color. Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly downplayed concerns about the water, despite being informed about abnormally high lead poisoning rates in Flint’s children.
It was not until October of 2015—after a spate of studies showed an increase in lead levels in children—that Snyder announced that the city’s water source would be transferred back to the Detroit system. Snyder did not declare a state of emergency until January 5, 2016, and even though Earley is no longer Flint’s emergency manager, Snyder has appointed him to be the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools—a school system plagued by underfunding and crumbling infrastructure.
Flint residents are now wondering what’s next for them and their children. Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint have planned to create programs that may help mitigate the effects of lead poisoning. Residents have also filed two class-action lawsuits against the city and state, and some are calling for Snyder’s resignation and/or his arrest.
Even as the Flint water crisis makes national headlines, residents – 40 percent of whom live in poverty – are being billed for the poisoned water and are being threatened with shutoffs if they do not pay.
Media Resources: The Detroit News 1/19/16; The White House, 1/16/16; Associated Press 1/16/16; Detroit Free Press 1/15/16; MSNBC.com 1/8/16; Huffington Post 12/21/15; MLive 9/25/15; Mayo Clinic