In what has become a national news story and a full-fledged public health emergency, state officials now acknowledge that unsafe drinking water has exposed children, pregnant women and other Flint residents to dangerous levels of lead.
Gov. Rick Snyder today put forth a plan to switch the city’s drinking water source from the Flint River back to Detroit. The switch is expected to take about two weeks. Coupled with measures announced last week—including funding for water filters and additional lead testing—today’s announcement is an important step forward.
Still, there is a lot more state leaders could do to resolve the Flint crisis and prevent similar scenarios in other Michigan communities. Below we identify some additional measures the state should take as soon as possible.
If you’ve been following this situation closely, feel free to skip ahead to our take on the situation. If you’re new to this issue, here’s some background information to bring you up to speed.
Why lead in drinking water is such a big deal
Lead exposure causes irreversible brain damage, which results in learning disabilities and violent behavior in children and adults. The effects are both heartbreaking and costly—childhood lead poisoning costs Michigan $330 million a year in decreased lifetime earnings and increased costs for health care, crime and special education.
The more we learn about lead, the more worrisome it becomes. For instance, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 updated its risk threshold for lead poisoning and said there is no safe level of lead exposure. And new research from Wayne State University shows that a mother’s exposure to lead can damage not only her children’s fetal cells, but also her grandchildren’s.
As the Detroit Free Press noted in a recent editorial, Flint’s formula-fed infants are at extremely high risk because water makes up such a big portion of their diet. So are the unborn children of pregnant women who have been drinking water they were assured is safe. Switching back to a safer drinking water source will greatly reduce the risk, but as the Free Press editors wrote, “For children who have already been exposed, there are no remedies.” Read more