The number of children in Flint, Michigan, with higher-than-average levels of lead in their blood has almost doubled since last year, prompting the city’s mayor to declare a state of emergency. Residents first began displaying symptoms associated with lead poisoning shortly after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River.
The use of the river as the city’s main source of water was originally introduced as a temporary measure while a new pipeline connecting Flint to Lake Huron was being constructed. However, soon after the switch was made in April 2014, increasing numbers of people in Flint began complaining of ailments such as hypertension, hair loss, skin rashes, and depression – all of which can be caused by high levels of lead in the blood.
It wasn’t long before residents began connecting these symptoms to the city’s water supply, which reportedly gave off a strange odor and was cloudy in appearance.
However, these fears were not confirmed until September of this year, when a report by the Hurley Medical Center revealed that the proportion of children under the age of five with levels of lead in their blood exceeding five micrograms per deciliter – the maximum safe level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – had risen from 2.1 percent to 4 percent.
Lead poisoning can cause mental impairment, and is particularly dangerous in children, whose brains are still developing. In severe cases, it can cause irreparable damage, leading to a number of cognitive complications such as learning difficulties, decreased IQ, and attention deficit disorder.
In a statement released earlier this week, Flint mayor Karen Weaver called for an immediate Special Meeting of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners, in an attempt to find a solution to what she calls a “manmade disaster.”
Flint Mayor declares state of emergency pic.twitter.com/8cpSduQ6Sq
— Dave Bondy (@DaveBondyTV) December 15, 2015
This statement from Flint mayor Karen Weaver calls for swift action in response to the increased levels of lead poisoning in young children. Twitter/Dave Bondy
Though the city stopped drawing its water from the Flint River in October, switching back to the Detroit water system, many residents are concerned that their children may have already suffered permanent damage. They have therefore filed a lawsuit against a number of city governors and public officials, accusing them of not doing enough to protect local citizens from the dangers of lead poisoning.
According to the lawsuit, “for more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff Class to extreme toxicity.”
While moderate lead poisoning can be treated with chelation therapy – which uses a chemical called edetate calcium disodium (EDTA) to bind to the excess lead in a person’s blood and ensure it is excreted from the body – severe cases are not treatable. For this reason, Mayor Weaver has stated that the recent crisis is likely to result in an increased need for special education and mental health services, as well as foster and adoptive parents.