Flint, Mich., So much lead in children’s blood, state of emergency is declared
For months, worried parents in Flint, Mich., arrived at their pediatricians’ offices in droves. Holding a toddler by the hand or an infant in their arms, they all have the same question: Are their children being poisoned?
To find out, all it takes is a prick of the finger, a small letting of blood. If tests come back positive, the potentially severe consequences are far more difficult to discern.
That’s how lead works. It leaves its mark quietly, with a virtually invisible trail. But years later, when a child shows signs of a learning disability or behavioral issues, lead’s prior presence in the bloodstream suddenly becomes inescapable.
According to the World Health Organization, “lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”
The Hurley Medical Center, in Flint, released a study in September that confirmed what many Flint parents had feared for over a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source, in 2014.
The crisis reached a nadir Monday night, when Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency.
Almost immediately after the city started drawing from the Flint River in April 2014, residents began complaining about the water, which they said was cloudy in appearance and emitted a foul odor.
Since then, complications from the water coming from the Flint River have only piled up. Although city and state officials initially denied that the water was unsafe, the state issued a notice informing Flint residents that their water contained unlawful levels of trihalomethanes, a chlorine byproduct linked to cancer and other diseases. The use of the Flint River was supposed to be temporary, set to end in 2016 after a pipeline to Lake Huron’s Karegnondi Water Authority is finished.
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