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Flint, Michigan, Water Quality Prompts State of Emergency


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Source: © Ryan Garza

On December 15th, Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency for the city of Flint, Michigan, due to high levels of lead in city drinking water. In the mayor’s own words, “The city of Flint has experienced a manmade disaster,” a catastrophe with long-term consequences for the city’s children.

To understand the Flint disaster, a little backstory is in order. In April of 2014 Flint switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The switch was only intended to be in force until the completion of a pipeline to Lake Huron’s Karegnondi Water Authority in 2016. Problems began immediately, with widespread reports of discolored and foul-smelling tap water. Citizens complained they were falling ill. Officials, by and large, insisted the water was safe.

High levels of trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic byproduct of chlorine disinfection, were found in the water supply. Then concerns of lead contamination were raised, culminating in a study released by the Hurley Medical Center in September of 2015, revealing the number of children with above average lead levels in their blood had doubled since the switch in water supply.

September also saw the city issue a boil water advisory, which far from improving water quality, made matters worse. Water evaporates, but lead does not, so boiling water actually increases lead concentration levels.

In October of 2015, the state of Michigan switched Flint back to the Detroit water supply, but the damage had already been done, the full extent of which will not be clear for years. And this, more than anything, is what terrifies Flint parents.

Children with no discernable symptoms at present may develop serious neurological and physical problems as they age. According to the World Health Organization, the effects of lead exposure in childhood include:

  • Antisocial behavior
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Impaired attention span
  • Reduced emotional attainment
  • Reduced IQ

These are only the neurological issues, which are considered irreversible. In addition, the children of Flint may see above average levels of anemia, high blood pressure, kidney impairment, immunotoxicity, and reproductive issues.

The mayor’s decision to issue a state of emergency reflects these nightmarish possibilities. Her press release appeals for help covering the increased cost of special education, mental health care, and juvenile justice system consequences the city will face over the next few decades.

Flint stands as a grim reminder of how quickly water quality can plummet to dangerous levels. And while we’d like to think authorities would move quickly and transparently to resolve such issues, Flint’s experience makes it clear we cannot place that much trust in political leadership.

Fortunately, you, as an individual, have steps you can take to protect your family and children from lead-tainted drinking water. Pelican’s 2 stage counter top drinking filter and reverse osmosis filters safely reduce lead and other residual contaminants from your water supply. Both our drinking filter and reverse osmosis systems are NSF-certified, allowing you to protect your family at affordable prices.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter