Flint, Michigan has recently been thrown into the spotlight for issues surrounding lead exposure through contaminated water. Although the source of lead exposure can vary, the irreversible effects remain the same. Flint’s national news coverage was the direct result of one resilient and concerned mother, a resident of Flint with three children.
LeAnne Walters rushed into investigating the severity of her water contamination shortly after she discovered the effects it was having on her and her family. The entire family was losing their hair and eyelashes, the five-year old twin boys were breaking out in spontaneous rashes, and one of the twins, Gavin, had stopped growing. At five years old, Gavin weighed a mere 32 pounds to his brother Garrett’s 53 pounds.
The constant lead exposure to the residents of Flint continued for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from concerned citizens. After deciding the town needed answers and action to be taken, LeAnne contacted the EPA’s Midwest water division to test the water supply in her home. At this point, she had stopped using tap water altogether, and was buying cases of bottled waters to use for cooking, bathing, and brushing teeth. The maximum concentration allowed by law is 15 parts per billion in any source of drinking water. LeAnne’s household water came back containing 13,200 parts per billion- over twice the level EPA classifies as hazardous waste.
LeAnne conducted extensive research on the effects of lead exposure, and what she found was beyond concerning. “She learned, to her horror, that the element has a particularly dramatic effect on young children, with long-term symptoms that can include a lowered IQ, shortened attention span, and increases in violence and antisocial behavior- not to mention effects on reproductive and other organs.” (Mother Jones) Even after LeAnne moved away from Michigan to Virginia, the effects on her children remained, as they are irreversible. Gavin was found to have a loss of appetite and an increase in sleeping habits. The other twin, Garrett, now mispronounces words that he could once use correctly, and was diagnosed with ADHD. One 15 year old girl living in Flint was tested, and found to have the liver function of a 75-year old. A pediatrician at the Hurley Medical Center found that the highest readings she and the state recorded for elevated blood lead levels in Flint reached 38 micrograms per deciliter- more than seven times higher than what the CDC considers an “elevated blood lead level.” Children that are exposed to even a small amount of lead are directly impacted, as lead can have a profound effect on the brain and nervous system without any signs or precursors of lead exposure occurring.
Lead exposure is a serious occurrence, whether children are being exposed through water, toys, jewelry or paint. The most common form of lead exposure comes from homes that have not been deleaded, as most cities and towns have protocols that protect their water from eroding existing lead pipes. The Flint water crisis being recognized nationally in the media helps spread awareness to an issue that is not discussed frequently enough. President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Flint, and the National Guard and Red Cross Volunteers have been assigned to helping the community receive clean, non-contaminated water. While the water crisis in Flint is trying to be remedied to prevent future lead exposure, nothing can be done for the 10,000 people residing in Flint that have been exposed. The effects of exposure cannot be reversed, and the results will resonate throughout the city for decades to come.