TriplePundit is tracking the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Follow our coverage here.
You can’t watch the national news without hearing reports about the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. For the last two years, residents of the city have been drinking and using water that is contaminated with lead. (Review a full timeline here.)
In 2014, the city of Flint switched to the Flint River as source of water. The chemistry of Flint River’s water is very corrosive to lead plumbing. Residents complained about the smell and color of the water for quite some time before anyone took them seriously. It took until October 2015 before the city switched back to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department as its water source, but the damage was done.
Some Americans want to bring even more attention to the problem. The Support For Flint’s Future Bus Tour will bring together a group of activists and artists who will travel to several places across Flint to call attention to the water crisis. Participants include actor and founder of Water Defense, Mark Ruffalo; author, activist and founder of Green For All, Van Jones; environmental justice activist and director of Green For All, Vien Truong; and businessman, philanthropist and founder of NextGen Climate, Tom Steyer. The tour will start this morning.
The Future Bus Tour will focus on three issues: children, environment, and jobs and economy. The participants will talk with individuals and organizations that are both affected by the water crisis and working to bring attention to it. The places they will visit will include Hurley Medical Center where they will talk with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who first sounded the alarm to dangerously high lead levels in local children and founded FlintKids.org.
Virginia Tech researchers are testing 252 water samples from Flint homes. The first 101 samples to be tested, what the researchers call “first draw samples,” have over 5 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, and Flint’s lead value is 25 ppb. That is over the 15 ppb that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows. Several samples were over 100 ppb and one sample that was collected after 45 seconds of flushing was over 1,000 ppb.
Lead contamination causes serious health problems, particularly for children and pregnant women. According to the EPA, even low levels of lead exposure in children can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. Lead exposure among pregnant women can cause reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth. Lead also causes problems for adults, including increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems in both men and women.
Lead contamination is a problem across the U.S.
Lead contamination isn’t limited to Flint, although the Michigan city’s problems are probably the worst found. In the Central California town of Fresno the area’s newspaper, the Fresno Bee, reported last month that traces of lead were found in water samples taken from about 20 homes in the city. The sources of the lead are not known, but weren’t traced back to the city’s wells. The problem likely lies within the homes, and pipe corrosion is thought to be the cause.
Across the country in Sebring, Ohio, lab tests conducted in August found high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water, the New York Times reported. The culprit is pipe corrosion caused after workers stopped adding an anticorrosive chemical. It took five months before the city informed its residents of the problem.
It is unthinkable that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are exposed to lead from their drinking water. Residents of this country’s cities and towns pay their water bills and hope that when they turn the tap on, they will be drinking, cooking and bathing with safe water. In Flint and other cities, people turn on their tap and are exposed to lead, a substance that causes severe health problems. This simply should not happen in the land of plenty.
Image credit: Flickr/Paul Hudson