The city of Flint, Michigan is dealing with a disaster that came as the result of efforts to avoid a different one: children are being sickened by extremely high lead levels in the drinking water. Mayor Karen Weaver has declared a state of emergency in the area after the city’s water source was moved from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, whose water was allegedly not treated properly before it was given to the residents to drink.
Tests have shown lead levels in the blood of some area children to be as much as three times the suggested limit. The city changed its water source to the Flint River when they believed it would cut costs by $4 million annually, though that price feels very small now in light of the children’s compromised health. The switch was only meant to be temporary until a pipeline to Port Huron Lake could be completed.
The water source was returned to the Detroit water system following a report that examined lead levels in local children’s blood that revealed elevated levels of over 5 micrograms per deciliter. Children subjected to high levels of lead in the blood can suffer anemia, kidney impairment, and problems with reproductive organs, in addition to antisocial behavior and a reduced IQ.
Flint residents had been informed that water from the Flint River carried unlawful amounts of a harmful chlorine byproduct, but the city said the water was safe to drink for residents that weren’t very young, very old, or ill. Residents petitioned against using the Flint River as a water source for months before anything was done. A month after the city began using the Detroit water system again, parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and the state as well as some specific public officials. The lawsuit suggests that hair loss, vision loss, and depression in residents stem from the water.
Weaver was elected mayor in November and declaring the state of emergency was part of her platform. She says that the damage children have suffered because of the water is irreversible, and that the city will need to spend more on special education and mental health services because of it.
FEMA has since sent 28,000 liters of bottled water to a food bank in Flint, as the water remains unsafe to drink in many parts of the city.