Five years ago, the public became aware of the lead water crisis present in Flint, Michigan. Today, the effects of the contamination and of the water cleanup are still being felt by the residents as they live off of bottled water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician that first concluded that children were being exposed to high levels of lead from the drinking water, has found staggering results for the number of children that will have to have additional learning support. There is no safe level of lead exposure and Dr. Mona claims that nearly 14,000 kids under the age of 6 have been exposed to lead contamination. Read More.
By: Sharon Franklin
New York Times Reporter, Erica L. Green recently reported on November 6, 2019 that Flint’s Children Suffer in Class After Years of Drinking the Lead-Poisoned Water. She reported that Angy Keelin’s son Averey, was exposed to lead, and had to repeat kindergarten, and Ms. Keelin now fears a Michigan law that calls for students to repeat third grade if they are more than one grade level behind in reading. She stated “I don’t want him to be continuously held back.” Ms. Keelin says that she wanted to stay in Flint Community Schools, where her blind son, was progressing in a program for visually impaired students, but then it ended abruptly and she was forced to follow the program 10 miles from her home to Genesee County.
Ms. Green reported, that now, five years after the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis the city’s lead crisis has migrated from its homes to its schools, where neurological and behavioral problems — real or feared — are threatening to overwhelm the education system.
Nearly, 30,000 of Flint Michigan school children have been exposed to a neurotoxin known to have detrimental effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems. Katherine Burrell, Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence Associate Director said the percentage of the city’s students who qualify for special education services has nearly doubled, to 28 percent, from 15 percent the year the lead crisis began, and the city’s screening center has received more than 1,300 referrals since December 2018.
For other Flint parents, there is consolation, because they have the opportunity to send their children to Educare a 36,000-square-foot early childhood center, which opened in December 2017. It is funded largely by private money in response to the Flint Water crisis. It serves 220 students ages 0 to 5 years with lead exposures. Educare is part of a national network that uses research into early childhood education, brain development and the achievement gap between rich and poor to shape its approach.
Today, Pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha remains optimistic. She is the doctor who used science to prove Flint kids were exposed to lead in 2015, when she went public with her research. She says that because of the Flint Water crisis, the fallout has created a road map to assist other cities like Newark, New Jersey that are experiencing a similar crisis. Dr. Hanna-Attisha further stated “We’re leaning on the science of trauma and resilience,”… “because kids across this country are waking up to the same nightmare.” She went on to say that “toxicity” existed here long before the water crisis.
…Photo Credit: Brittany Greeson for The New York Times
Residents in Flint, MI said over and over that the filters were not reliable to keep lead out of their tap water. EPA the state and some scientists said that activists were just creating a crisis that didn’t exist. Well, now we see the same thing in NJ. Read about the problem.
Harvard alum, an accomplished entrepreneur, data scientist, and businesswoman, Doll Avant is now taking on America’s water crisis.
Our water in the US is supplied by lots of sources. Groundwater makes up about 25% of water used, while surface sources like rivers, lakes, or reservoirs make up the remaining 75%. Most of our water is used for thermoelectric purposes, irrigation and public supplies (2005). But water is also important for industry and farming, since it can be used for almost every step of producing everyday goods like food, paper, chemicals, petroleum, or metals. The water cycle doesn’t end there, though. The water used in production needs to flow somewhere, and a lot of times it goes back into rivers.
In a 2004 fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US water sources were declared too impaired by pollution to support their use: ‘In 2004, states reported that about 44% of assessed stream miles, 64% of assessed lake acres, and 30% of assessed bay and estuarine square miles were not clean enough to support uses such as fishing and swimming. Less than 30% of U.S. waters were assessed by the states for this report. Leading causes of impairment included pathogens, mercury, nutrients, and organic enrichment/low dissolved oxygen. Top sources of impairment included atmospheric deposition, agriculture, hydrologic modifications, and unknown or unspecified sources.’
Knowing the numbers is one thing, but knowing what that means for the general public is another. What does it mean to live near a contaminated river or reservoir? If the pollution exceeds a certain level of concentration, it means that your community’s main water source is not fit to drink. More than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams in the US have poor water quality due to factory farming. One single agricultural company, Tyson Foods, causes 104 million pounds of pollution in our surface sources of water within four years. One can only imagine the impact that the whole of US agriculture must have on our water supplies – not to mention other industries and big oil.
With public awareness growing and environmental movements on the rise, how can industrial and agricultural pollution still happen at this large scale? A big portion of water pollution is backed by outdated policies or lack of those that control the amount of pollution. Policies that do exist are enforced poorly and inconsistently which lets industries bypass or ignore laws. Unplanned industrial growth and a number of small scale industries with lack of funding for better technologies influence water quality as well. Often times, it is lower income and marginalized communities suffering the most.
The main issue that stems from water pollution is the impact on health. Polluted water can contain chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, industrial wastewater, heavy metals, and even radioactive waste. The impacts on communities can be dreadful, and ecosystems are being harmed beyond repair. Failing ecosystems put a strain on many parts of our modern day lives. Fish living in contaminated waters can easily ingest pollutants and carry them into the natural food chain. Habitats are being lost and species are on the brink of extinction, major disasters like oil spills damage public and private properties. The list of consequences seems endless. We all know that coming in contact with these pollutants can cause diseases like cancer, painful rashes, issues with liver and kidney, and disturbance of the nervous system. Children are especially vulnerable: In the Flint water crisis, officials found lead levels in the water causing low IQ, shortened attention span, and increases in violence and antisocial
behavior. It can adversely affect major organs of the body and the effects are irreversible.
All these facts might feel almost insurmountable. But let’s focus on what we can do to change the way people look at our water, and to reduce pollution and the effect it has on our lives. There are many approaches to help keep our water sources clean.
Look at your own water footprint and the footprint of the food you’re eating and the goods you’re using. See what you can change about your lifestyle that would reduce it. See how we impact our water sources.
Look for companies that use environmentally friendly methods and sell biodegradable products instead of chemical cleaners and harming industrial practices. Buy local.
Advocate for your cause. If you change opinions of your friends and family, and if you educate them about water and all the issues revolving around it, they might do the same. It only needs a small number of people to start a movement. Spread the word.
Join an organization, donate or volunteer. See what you can do in your community. Join CHEJ and help communities affected by pollution
Learn about our water sources and how they are used, who influences them and who uses how much.
Check out these links to learn more:
Just yesterday, the federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan over lead-contaminated water expired. What comes next for a community continuing to deal with a public health crisis?
Residents in Flint have been understandably concerned about the August 14th deadline, as Michigan Radio reports. President Obama declared a Federal State of Emergency over Flint’s poisoned water on January 15th of this year, making 5 million dollars of federal money available to help with the crisis. With the state of emergency in place, the federal government has covered 75% of costs necessary for providing bottled water, filters, filter cartridges, and home testing kits to Flint residents. This aid isn’t going away, according to state officials; instead, the state will be picking up the tab for the necessary supplies –estimated to cost 3.5 million dollars a month, based on current water needs (approximately 10,000 cases of water a week.)
Will those needs remain steady, or have they reached their peak? Current testing suggests conditions in Flint are improving. NPR reports that Virginia Tech researchers, who first exposed the lead contamination, found no detectable levels in half of the homes they tested last month. One expert described Flint as “entering a range that’s considered normal for other U.S. cities.” Unfortunately, water contamination is not unique to Flint, and what’s considered ‘normal’ around the U.S. may simply not be safe enough.
Lead is not the only threat to water supplies across the United States. In addition to known and regulated contaminants, emerging contaminants that have yet to be evaluated may be impacting our water supplies. According to the EPA, many streams that supply water nationwide are not covered by clean-water laws. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a public health expert at Tufts University and former chairperson of the EPA’s Drinking Water Committee, noted that we have “lots of really good professionals in the water industry…but it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.”
Given the financial aftermath of the Flint crisis, it’s unsurprising that some ‘unprofessional actors’ were hesitant to disclose the unsafe drinking water conditions. The cost of supplying water to Flint residents is just the beginning; Governor Snyder’s original application for federal aid estimated that as much as 55 million dollars would be needed to repair damaged lead service lines in Flint. The consequences are steep for a city whose crisis originated with a water supply switch intended to cut costs.
Most critically, the crisis in Flint has called into question the trust that we place in our federal, state and local officials to disclose threats to our safety presented by unsafe water. In Flint, the lead contamination persisted for years before it was discovered, and even longer before it was disclosed to the public. Even if water treatments and infrastructure repairs are ultimately successful and lead is undetectable in every Flint household, residents may never again trust their water supply, or the reports they are given about it by their local and state officials. Water can be treated and pipes can be replaced, but trust is much more difficult to repair. In the meantime, at least Flint residents will continue to have access to clean, bottled water. Whether they will trust their faucets again in the future is another matter entirely.
Last week, we asked you on Twitter, Facebook, and through an e-mail to add your voice to an important discussion: what do you want to see from the next EPA administration? The results are in!
- Focus on environmental justice: 58 votes
- More direct efforts to make impactful resolutions: 32 votes
- Responsive leadership: 27 votes
- Transparent decision making: 26 votes
103 people participated in the survey. As you can see, some people put more than one answer– we should expect a lot from the EPA!
The most popular choice was a focus on environmental justice, with about 40% of the vote. It’s clear that the participants in this poll aren’t happy with the approach the EPA is taking towards environmental justice. The next EPA administration must adopt an mode of operation that protects everyone, especially those who need it most.
We’ve seen environmental injustice exemplified in Flint, where the EPA stayed silent, failing the people there who need clean water. It’s time for a new EPA to speak up. As this infographic from The Nation shows, “environmental racism is nothing new.”
More direct efforts to make impactful resolutions, responsive leadership, and transparent decision making all came in at about 20%. All of these qualities are the next EPA administrator must have, and that current administrator Gina McCarthy has often failed to exhibit.
With elections looming, it’s time for politicians– and for all of us– to know what we need from the new EPA for it to be effective in protecting our environment and the people in it. Let’s hold our candidates responsible for their power of appointing the new EPA administrator.
Did you hear that the Flint water crisis is over? Nothing could be further from the truth. President Obama’s attempt to prove the water’s safety by drinking it on national television left many Flint residents confused and angry. Right now, pregnant women and children under age six are still being warned not to drink the water. How safe is it? Many Flint residents are relying on bottled water to bathe, cook, and brush teeth. Flint’s old leaded pipes are a long way from being replaced. The chemicals being used to seal pipes are showing problems. Flint’s residents are rightly anxious about the safety of the water.
The early signs which concerned moms and dads noticed included hair loss, sudden skin rashes, abdominal pain. They knew something was wrong, but for many parents, learning that the child was lead poisoned was much worse than anything else they had imagined. The heartbreak continued as they found that their kids were now at high risk for ADHD, low IQ, among other long-term health effects. Here is one mother’s story:
‘I’m not taking a bath . . . it hurts my skin.’ The evening struggle begins again for a mom whose child refuses to bathe. The contaminated water was causing her young son’s rash. ‘I took him to the doctors. I was told to keep his skin clean and to bathe him every night. The doctor said he had contact dermatitis from something like laundry soap, bar soap, or something else he comes in contact with. I never thought water from my faucet could be hurting my baby.”
Oversight responsibility over city water is the local government’s job. Local government is required to report to the state, which is overseen by the federal EPA water division. One breakdown in oversight is bad, but a break down at every level means somebody or everybody is slacking on the job and does not care.
Sasha Khokha, a journalist from California National Public Radio has a different distressing story. After she heard about the water crisis in Flint, she decided to check her tap water. When she reviewed her water bill from the city of Fresno, she read the “consumer confidence report” for drinking water. Sasha read the footnote in small print: ‘123 Trichloropropane (1,2,3 TCP) has been detected in 29 wells in Fresno…. Some people who use water containing it over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer, based on studies in laboratory animals.’
Fearing for her two children, she decided to get her water tested for the presence of chemicals. The sample from Sasha’s kitchen tap showed 2.2 parts per trillion, three times the state’s public health goal for 1,2,3-TCP. Twenty-five years after California declared 1,2,3-TCP to be a carcinogen, drinking water regulators are only now planning to set a standard for drinking water.
And it’s not just Fresno. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, the chemical has been found in about a hundred public water systems across California, mostly in the Central Valley, but also in counties like Santa Cruz, Monterey, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.
We have do better as a country, every person deserves safe drinking water – it is a human right.
I suspect that many of you watched in amazement as President Barack Obama drank a sip of tap water while visiting Flint, MI earlier this month and told everyone that it’s OK. Sorry, Mr. President, but all’s not well in Flint. This publicity stunt is a slap in the face to so many people. Not only have thousands of people including young children and infants already been exposed to toxic levels of lead and other contaminants that will affect their health for years, but thousands of people in Flint are still drinking and using contaminated water.
Dr. Marc Edwards, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who has done an enormous amount of water testing in Flint released the latest testing results in April several weeks before Obama’s visit. These results showed lower levels of lead in the water, but lead levels were still above the action level set by Obama’s EPA. In a press release, Edwards stated that “People have to continue using bottled water and filters until further notice.” Furthermore, no one is testing the water for volatile organic compounds like trihalomethanes (THM), contaminants that result from adding chlorine to kill bacteria. Early in the Flint crisis, THMs and bacteria levels were found to be high, but once elevated lead was found in the water, testing for THMs and bacteria stopped.
Be clear, Obama’s publicity stunt was not about public health. It was not about good science or testing results that show that the water is safe to drink. Instead, it was about reassuring the public that all is well in Flint and that the government has everything under control. It was about avoiding taking responsibility and not holding those at the highest levels of government accountable for the mistakes that led to the disaster in Flint. It was about controlling the media and trying to convince the media to move on to the next hot button issue. If this succeeds, then we can expect to see more Flints in the future, because we will not have learned anything from this public health disaster.
I’ve Got Your Back, Really?
I can’t believe that President Obama drank a sip of water from Flint. It was a slap in the face to so many people. His own agency was responsible for not raising the alarms when EPA received data that said the water was poisoned. Obama has done a number of extraordinary things while in office. Yes, I voted for him and yes, I’d likely do it again. I’m stunned. What in the world could Obama have been thinking when he drank that water? Of course there is no way his water was toxic from chemicals, viruses or bacteria let alone lead. Further dismissing the crisis, he said he likely eat lead paint chips as a child. Really? That dismissal brings no comfort to the parents of lead poisoned children who will never reach their birth potential and are sick. I can’t help but wonder if Gina McCarthy orchestrated that news event.
Obama’s person in charge, Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator has ignored literally all but one division of EPA’s programs and responsibility including drinking water. The one exception since she was confirmed in July 2013 is climate change. Remember the January 2014 West Virginia Elk River spill that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people. Drinking water in schools, hospitals, family homes with pregnant women and small children were exposed to toxic chemicals resulting in serious health impacts. The company responsible had not been inspected by EPA since 1991. You would think that McCarthy’s EPA would monitor the site after the spill but they didn’t. Seven months later, in June 2014, another spill from the same company occurred from a sump pump malfunction into the same Elk River.
Then in February 2014 there was the Dan River coal ash spill that poisoned the river from Virginia to North Carolina. For a week a pipe poured arsenic and other heavy metals 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater directly into the river. Ash was found on the bottom of the river for 70 miles and as much as 5 feet deep in places.
Today, the question of what to do with coal ash wastes is still a problem especially for low income communities. EPA is behind the proposal to dump it in garbage landfills in mostly low wealth, rural, communities of color. Gina McCarthy supports this proposal but the US Commission on Civil Rights is investigating the fairness of the plan.
The Colorado Animas River spill was solely the fault of EPA’s lack of careful attention. It was EPA that accidentally released an estimate of three million gallons of waste water into the river in August 2015. This river supplies drinking water to area residents. EPA authorities knew about the risk through a June 2014 work order that read “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals” and through a May 2015 action plan for the mine that also noted “the potential for a blowout.” People living along the Animas and San Juan rivers were advised to have their water tested before using it for cooking, drinking, or bathing. The spill also caused major problems for farmers and ranchers who rely on the rivers for their livelihoods.
The next crisis is likely in St Louis, MO. An underground fire from one old dump site is creeping towards the adjunct radioactive site. When the fire reaches the radioactive materials the state’s Attorney General’s experts say there could be a Chernobyl like event. This possible crisis can be taken care and avoided but McCarthy is not acting. Saying you are sorry and accepting the resignation of staff is not how to run an agency.
McCarthy has hurt so many innocent American people and the reputation of the agency is questionable. I don’t know if EPA can ever recover. Her advice to the President should have been, say you’re sorry, don’t act like me, an incompetent leader and declare the situation what it is a disaster. Then bring in the troops to change the pipes so everyone can be sure their water is safe.