The flint water crisis

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September 6, 2015 the first month of my junior year of high school year started to roll around. My best friend and I were walking up the front steps to the door of our high school. As we walked through the doors there were red warning signs all over the walls and in front of every drinking fountain and bathroom. All of my fellow classmates and I look around our classroom dazed and confused. The PA system sounded throughout our halls with our principal’s booming voice. “Good morning students, as you have all seen there are signs posted in front of every water source in the school. The city of Flint has issued a state of emergency due to the recent increase of lead into our water system, and this water has been deemed dangerous, so as of now please do not drink the water for your safety.” A cloud of fear and shock filled the small classroom that we all sat in. “Did we drink water that was filled with lead?!?” a my friend marissa said frantically. “What happens if we did drink the water?” another voice rang out from the back of the classroom. My phone buzzed within my pocket. TEXT FROM MOM lit up my screen, “Joe don’t drink the water at school, Flint is all over the news for being in a state of emergency because of the water!” I sat and pondered to myself I drank the water last week because I didn’t bring my water bottle from home, what if I have too much lead in my body? What about last year, that’s when they switched the water?

On December 14, 2015, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the city of Flint after numerous attempts to clean up the water crisis that had just started its terror in an already broken, poverty ridden city in Genesee County, Michigan. The water line had been switched to the Flint River water to cut costs while building a new pipeline to Lake Huron. After the water supply line had been switched from Lake Huron supply to the Flint River water supply, 100,000 Flint residents had been affected by the rising lead levels. One of the most detrimental effects of the water crisis was the almost 9,000 children that had been reported that had been exposed to toxic levels of lead (Water Crisis Facts). With already being a poverty stricken city, the United States poorest city was deteriorating. After switching the water supply, the EPA blatantly missed that the pH of the two water supplies were drastically different. Due to the pH being lower than regulation placed by EPA, and no treatment in order to equalize the pH, the acidity of the water caused the mineral sublayer of the pipes to corrode, and release the lead to be released into the water supply. Although small amounts of lead are present in the blood of a person’s body, according to Michael A. Edwards, an environmental engineer from Virginia Tech, the amount present in the Flint water was 900 times larger than the 15 ppb (parts per billion). “We tested multiple houses from around Flint, and the results were astounding, we have never seen anything like this, it was on a league of its own.” With all this been said, a giant concern that many bystanders worry about are the amount of children affected by the lead consumption. Lead consumption at the levels that the children of Flint faced are detrimental to their health including growth defects, cognitive growth, and even death. With all the problems that could arise during the lifetime of the children affected by this disaster, it could affect generations to follow.

In the beginning of 2014, the Flint Water crisis reached out and destroyed the lives of many people, especially children. The amount of lead that filled their sinks, bottles, and bathtubs was 900 times more than the safe amount, because of this the children were exposed to an element that could affect their mind and life forever. Lead is a natural element which is also a neurotoxin that can be poisonous at high levels. Due to the high exposure of a such a strong neurotoxin, this can cause the disruption of a child’s cognitive development. Based on a study conducted by a group of doctors from New England Journal of Medicine, children with high lead levels scored approximately 30% lower on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and significantly lower on subtests such as speech and auditory processing and attention span (Needleman, Herbert, etc.) Lee-Anne Walters, mother of twin boys affected by high lead levels explains that “The boys knew their colors and numbers and their ABCs, and they’re being retaught all these things now because of what’s happened. What happened to my children to the children in my community, that’s not OK. It’s taken away their innocence. It’s not something that they can get back.”

Within a city of 100,000 people, many being children there are approximately 40 schools that are poorly funded within the Flint area (Genesee Area Schools). With many of the Flint school districts barely having enough funding to stay open and operating, a majority of the schools don’t have programs for kids with learning disabilities. Because of going to school that is privately funded, our district had the opportunity to have a program that we specially made for children that had been affected by the Flint water crisis and had learning disabilities because of it. But due to such a high poverty rate in Flint, many parents could not afford the price of tuition in order to participate in the special education program, therefore many struggling students couldn’t receive the help needed in order to regain the knowledge that was lost because of cognitive development issues.

Another corresponding issue having to do with exposure to high levels of lead in children is their growth and bodily development. Because of lead being so toxic, it attacks the central nervous system causing the brain to not release growth hormones children need to grow and mature. Lead poisoning within children ages 5 and below can cause the mutation of three genes within the body that affect the factors of growth (Lidsky). While high consumption of lead mainly affects children whose’ body is not able to function as well and efficiently, it also greatly affects young women that are soon to be mothers. Lead poisoning can be passed from mothers that live life with lead contamination. Lead accumulates and is stored in bone for decades and these bone lead stores may pose a threat to women of reproductive age long after their exposure to lead has ended. In some studies, the contributions from endogenous (bone) and exogenous (environmental) sources on maternal blood lead levels were about equal (Chuang). In addition to transfer of lead between a fetus and it’s mother through the umbilical cord, lead can also be transferred from breastfeeding beca a in breast milk also increase with the lead level in maternal blood, posing an additional risk to the neonate. High calcium intake (>2000 mg/day) may attenuate pregnancy‐induced increases in maternal blood lead concentrations by decreasing maternal bone resorption or demineralization during pregnancy and the subsequent release of lead from the bone (Johnson, 2001).

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