Flint, Michigan: a lead poisoning epidemic

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Could more be done?

That’s the question a lot of Flint, Michigan residents are asking about their water. It’s been 1,000 days since the city of Flint began drawing water from the Flint River. What was the reason behind switching to begin with? Oh, to save money. That didn’t go as planned – and not just at the expense of the city. No, it’s at the expense of people’s lives and health. As stated in an article by Rawstory recently, while it’s been nearly 3 years since the city switched water sources, the lead poisoning epidemic has yet to be resolved.

Is the lead water crisis in Flint over?

A short answer is no. It’s tough to say exactly how improved Flint’s water is. This is for various reasons – one reason is that not every home’s water is tested. That would be a bit absurd. While residents can pay to have their water tested, it’s an additional expense to residents. So, the randomized tests aren’t all encompassing. Another reason is that what the government states about the health of the water conflicts with what residents are saying. In a recent article in teen vogue, author Ryan Garza states, “It is important for people to know that very little has changed since Flint was in the news daily.”

As of today, state officials announced, “lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water have receded below federal limits.” But, how accurate is this? Tests showed that lead levels in the drinking water were 12 parts per billion as of December. And that’s great, right? Well, yes, but the state is still cautioning all residents to use filtered water.

Because the tests done by the state do not test each individual house, there is discrepancy between what the state officials have stated regarding lead levels, and what individuals see as true. “A recent test by scholars at Virginia Tech revealed that five percent of homes in the city still have more lead in their tap water than federal standards allow.”

What’s happened since President Obama declared a state of emergency?

There’s been some good first steps towards ensuring the residents of Flint have safe drinking water.

The most obvious first step was to reconnect to the Detroit water. It’s too little, too late. The damage has already been done, and since the pipes were affected by the Flint River, they are continuing to corrode. So, the most obvious second step is to fix or replace the pipes. The state has added corrosion inhibitors so that the lead pipes will not continue to corrode as quickly. Additionally, approximately 600 lead pipes have been replaced out of an estimated 29,000 have been replaced. I know that things can’t happen overnight, but the boast that the city has replaced 2% of its pipes doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. It actually comes across as insulting to the residents of Flint.

What else has happened? As stated on January 13, selected homes will begin having faucets replaced free of charge beginning February 2017. Brass Faucets can contribute to the levels of lead in drinking water. Not all homes will have faucet replacements, though.

What’s next?

With lead still in drinking water, residents are encouraged to drink bottled water, or at the very least, filtered tap water. While the state is making headway on reducing the lead in water, it’s not an epidemic that is simply “over” by any stretch of the imagination. Even if the water goes completely back to normal, years down the road, the health and financial consequences on the residents and state have taken a toll.

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