Flint Evaluates How Lead-Tainted Water Affects Children

The city of Flint, Michigan is taking a close look at how lead in the drinking water has harmed its children. The water crisis goes back to 2014, when the water source was switched from Lake Huron to Flint River water. Residents complained of their tap water shortly afterwards, stating that it looked dirty, tasted bad and led to rashes, but officials did not take any action until researchers found elevated blood lead levels in children the following year. As of December 2015, the state identified 43 people with elevated blood lead levels.

Children face the greatest risk of adverse effects with lead exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of lead in children; even small amounts can lead to development problems. Filters have been distributed to residents to remove the lead. According to the New York Times however, officials said recent testing showed the levels of lead in some samples surpassed the amount of lead the filters are designed to remove.

The amount of lead in drinking water should be lower than 15 parts per billion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the United States Public Health Service, said lead levels were higher than 150 parts per billion in 26 out of 4,000 water samples. “This does not mean that we think there’s a problem with the filters,” she said, according to NYT. “In fact, everything we know tells us that they are performing well.” The filters are designed to remove lead up to 150 parts per billion. Ms. Lurie says the filters may work at higher levels.

Flint residents and advocates have expressed anger against the government, who they say failed to prevent the crisis. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is leading the effort to help manage the damage children have sustained from lead exposure. Her research, which identified high levels of lead in the drinking water, was the driving force behind any government action in the first place. “If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said, according to NYT.

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