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.
Michigan has three Superfund sites that remain stagnant in their cleanup process because of a lack of funding for the Superfund program. At the end of December, the EPA released a list of 34 shovel ready Superfund sites with no responsible parties to aid cleanup that will remain idle because the program does not have enough funding. Michigan has three of the listed sites located in St. Clair Shores, St. Louis, and Mancelona that will not receive complete cleanup in the near future. Read More.
As WWMT News reports, an EPA advisory group will hold three community meetings for the Allied Paper, Portage Creek, Kalamazoo River Superfund Site. These meetings are meant to serve as town halls for the community to discuss the status as the clean up, as well as the role of Michigan and Natural Resource Trustees in the clean up. Each meeting will discuss a different aspect of the Superfund Site clean up. <Read 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.
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.