flint hydrant

This is a photo of a fire hydrant in Flint, MI that has been “flushing” for over 5 hours.  This photo was taken from Erin Brokovich’s FB page.  

In April 2014, in an attempt to save money, the city of Flint MI disconnected from Detroit’s water system and reconnected to a water supply with the Flint River as its main source.  Eighteen months later, the county health department declared a public health emergency because the incidence of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) in young children had doubled.  Flint’s failure is the successful poisoning of its children.  A plan to reconnect to Detroit’s water system was announced.

Although we think of lead poisoning as a result of eating lead-based paint chips, the risk of drinking lead contaminated water has increased due to aging of lead-based plumbing infrastructure.  Lead in new building was restricted in 1986, but many older homes and neighborhoods still depend on lead service lines and lead-based plumbing materials.  The water from the Flint River system is so corrosive that it has dramatically increased the amount of lead leaching into the drinking water.  The correlations between elevated water lead levels (WLLs) and elevated BLLs are striking.  In those neighborhoods with the highest WLLs, a much higher percentage of the children had elevated BLLs.  The greatest risk of lead in water is to infants drinking reconstituted formula.  Children can absorb as much as 40% of an oral dose of water soluble lead (compared to ~5% for adults).  With over 40% of Flint’s children  living below the poverty line, alternative water resources are limited.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin and lead poisoning can impact intelligence, behavior and life achievement.  There is a body of evidence that demonstrates the effects of even low level lead exposure on these aspects of child development: speech and language, attention, fine and gross motor skills, and visual-spatial skills.  

From the CDC’s report of the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention: “In addition, studies employing specific measures of visual-motor integration skills, such as the Developmental Test of Visual-motor Integration, the Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test and others, have found visual-motor integration skills to be among the most consistently associated with early lead exposure.”

There is increasing recognition that no identifiable BLL is safe and without these deleterious outcomes.  These impairments are life altering and irreversible.  Prevention is necessary to ELIMINATE exposure. Flint gets a big fat F for prevention.

I like what Ryan Cooper had to say:

And that’s where a moral atrocity becomes an economic self-kneecapping. Aside from the cost of settlements, children are the major portion of the future’s economic capacity, which depends critically on their ability to function normally. Destroying their brains with heavy metals will rather impede their ability to get the jobs and pay the taxes that will get Flint on a sound fiscal footing.

Being a cheapskate can be expensive indeed.


Hanna-Attisha M, LaChance J, Sadler RC, Schnepp AC.  Elevated blood lead levels in children associated with the Flint drinking water crisis: a spatial analysis of risk and public health response. Amer J Public Health Dec 21, 2015, PAP e1-8.

Centers for Disease Control. Educational Interventions for Children Affected by Lead.  2015.  Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/Educational_Interventions_Children_Affected_by_Lead.pdf.