healthHealth and Medicine

Fetal Deaths Rocketed In Flint Following Lead Poisoning Of Water

The National Guard had to step in to distribute bottled water as a state of emergency was declared in Flint, Michigan

The National Guard had to step in to distribute bottled water as a state of emergency was declared in Flint, Michigan. Grossman et al. 2017

The lead pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan, resulted in a massive crash in the city's fertility rates, causing a “culling of weaker fetuses through miscarriage or fetal death". These conclusions are drawn from a new working paper, which also found that the overall health of infants at birth decreased during the disaster.   

The research has estimated that from November 2013 to March 2015, between 198 and 276 more children would have been born if the city had not changed its water source from Detroit to the Flint River.


Lead contamination is thought to cause developmental problems in fetuses and young children. It can cause permanent brain damage and behavioral problems, a problem likely to affect the community for years to come.

When compared to other cities in Michigan, the drop in fertility is stark. Grossman et al. 2017

The researchers found that per 1,000 women in Flint aged 15 to 49, there were 7.5 fewer live births compared to women living in other cities in Michigan, creating a 12 percent drop. Fetal death rates rose by 0.1 deaths per 1,000 women, which might not sound like much, but this is a horrifying 58 percent rise. According to the study's authors, these are likely underestimates.

The situation began when, in order to save the state a few dimes, the Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder changed Flint's water supply so that it came directly from the Flint River, rather than Detroit. This set in motion a series of events that eventually led to the then President, Barack Obama, declaring a state of emergency in the city, as the levels of lead in the tap water reached tens, sometimes even hundreds of times, over the recommended limit.

However, it was not actually the Flint River that contained the shockingly high levels of lead, but the pipes used to transport it. This was finally admitted in September 2015, a full 16 months after the drinking water had been contaminated. While water from Detroit was treated with the correct anticorrosion chemicals, the Flint River water was not, meaning that lead in the pipes leached into the water, poisoning the city.


Studies have shown that maternal exposure to lead can cause a whole host of fetal abnormalities, including reduced gestational period, lower birth weight, and even death. By comparing the fertility rates of women in Flint during the crisis to those of women in other cities in Michigan, who to all other extents had similar environments, the researchers found that the lead had a horrific and lasting impact on the residents.


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