The Water Crisis that Plagues Flint and The Danger of Lead: Part II

LeeAnne+Walters%2C+a+resident+of+Flint%2C+MI+spoke+at+the+Joint+Committee+on+the+Flint+Water+Public+Health+Emergency+on+Mar.+29%2C+2016.

Ryan Garza

LeeAnne Walters, a resident of Flint, MI spoke at the Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency on Mar. 29, 2016.

Jenna Grayson, Staff Writer

If you haven’t read Part I of the Flint story yet click here.

  The city of Flint has had a toxic water source for over two years now and residents of Flint are continuing to suffer from not having access to clean water.

  Paying for toxic water for residents of Flint isn’t cheap either. According to The Detroit Free Press, it’s actually very costly: “A survey of the 500 largest water systems in the country, conducted last year and released in February, found that on average, Flint residents paid the nation’s highest water rates. That was about $864 a year for water service, nearly double the national average and about three-and-a-half times as much as Detroiters pay.”

  Because of the high majority of people in Flint who live below the poverty line (according to The Guardian, “About 40% of Flint’s residents live below the poverty line” ) and the low demand for houses in the region due to water poisoning, relocation isn’t an option for most residents of Flint. Many people who currently reside in Flint simply can’t afford the cost of moving. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Flint citizen Renee Wilson, who spoke about why she can’t leave the Michigan city: “I really want to pick up and leave town, but I can’t afford it.” Since Wilson is one of approximately 40,000 citizens living under the poverty line in Flint, situations like these aren’t a rarity.

  Exposure to any level of lead can quickly cause lead poisoning and, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “No amount of lead is safe.” If lead exposure is long term, it can result in Legionnaire’s Disease, a type of severe pneumonia that causes one to experience symptoms of coughing, “shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches [and] high fever,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also informed that this disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella, which is most often found in warm water. The Washington Post has cited that since the water supply changed in Flint, “Eighty-seven people developed Legionnaire’s Disease, resulting in 10 deaths.” If you read part I, you’ll know that these deaths could have been easily prevented.

  Long-term lead exposure can also cause an “increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage” in adults and  “there is also evidence showing that adults who have low levels of exposure to lead less than 5 μg/dL  [below 5 micromoles of lead per liter of blood] may have decreased kidney function,” according to the CDC. Flint resident Connie Taylor is just one example of how high lead exposure damages one’s kidneys. After Taylor contracted Legionnaires disease, both of her kidneys failed. The New York Times interviewed Taylor about her health problems and cited that “she now requires kidney dialysis three times a week” and “would require dialysis treatments for the rest of her life, unless she qualified for a kidney transplant.” Taylor felt that this could have been prevented, telling The New York Times, “This is something I didn’t have to go through.”

  Effects of lead exposure on pregnancies can be even more dangerous, with the World Health Organization explaining that the effects can lead to possible “miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.” In children, lead poisoning affects “the brain and central nervous system, causes comas, convulsions and even death,” according to the NIEHS.

   The organization also has explanations on how different levels of blood lead count can cause a wide variety of different effects. When blood lead levels are “below 10 μg/dL,” (below 10 micromoles of lead per liter of blood) they’re associated with “decreased kidney function and increases in blood pressure, hypertension, and incidences of essential tremor, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system whose most recognizable feature is a tremor of the arms or hands during voluntary movements, such as eating and writing.” When blood levels are greater than 15 μg/dL (greater than 15 micromoles of lead per liter of blood), common effects include “cardiovascular effects, nerve disorders, decreased kidney function, and fertility problems, including delayed conception and adverse effects on sperm and semen, such as lower sperm counts and motility.”

  Independent global news organization Democracy Now! interviewed Jody Cramer, a former Genesee County Jail prisoner, about the contaminated water that he and his fellow inmates were subjected to. Cramer said that, “In jail, we were drinking from the taps. Our food was being made from the taps. Prior to this, they had already started handing out bottles of water when this first broke in October. And then they stopped, saying that their water was good. Many inmates made complaints due to the fact that the deputies would not drink from the faucets—they all carried bottled water. And on that same token, we were consistently told that the water in the jail was good.”

  He added that “I not only drink this water,” but that “I have to brush my teeth” with the water as well. Cramer said that he and other inmates were only given “four bottles of water a day,” stating that he would “have two bottles at lunchtime, two bottles at dinnertime,” which is “a total of 48 ounces per day.” According to the woman who interviewed Cramer, Amy Goodman, “That’s less than half the amount of water the Institute for Medicine recommends adult men drink daily.”

   Pregnant women incarcerated in the Genesee County Jail were also exposed to toxic water and not given any extra clean water bottles to drink from and use. Cramer added that, “there’s a lot of pregnant women in the Genesee County Jail. As far as I know, they get the same amount of water as anybody else.” The Baby Center recommends drinking “about three litres (eight to 12 glasses) of fluid every day” while pregnant, which is more than twice as much drinking water than is given to pregnant women in the Genesee County Jail.

  Despite all of the horrible events that are occurring in Flint, there is a sliver of light and kindness during this time. Luckily, the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten about the Michigan city: multiple charities for Flint water donations have been set up, like the Flint Water Fund and the Flint Water Response Team, and countless GoFundMe pages have been made. Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee County have also contributed to helping distribute clean, safe water and are currently serving at their soup kitchen with filtered water.

   Michigan Live listed a multitude of public figures and celebrities who have donated thousands of dollars to charities, set up or are working with foundations and/or have sent thousands bottles of water to Flint residents — Cher, Big Sean, Beyonce, the band Pearl Jam, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill, Detroit Lions player Ezekiel Ansah with fellow teammates, Puff Daddy, Wiz Khalifa, Jimmy Fallon, Madonna, Judd Apatow, Rosie O’Donnell, Seth Meyers, R&B singer KEM and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores are just some of the well-known names who have helped out with the ongoing water crisis.

  If you’re eager to donate to Flint residents who don’t have access to clean water, you don’t have to be as wealthy as the celebrities listed above; you can go to unitedwaygenesee.org/flintwaterfund, catholiccharitiesflint.org/flint-water-crisis for addresses to mail donations to and redcross.org/local/mi.
 With the water crisis in Flint being perpetuated on and off again for over 180 years and Michigan government representatives ignoring complaints about the water source up until a state of emergency was officially declared on Jan. 5, one thing seems to be very clear: people are suffering as a result of a toxic water source and it needs to stop.