When the city of Flint, Michigan, temporarily switched their water source to the Flint River in 2014, it did not treat the water properly. The untreated river water corroded the pipes, allowing the lead to leach into the drinking water. Tests revealed lead levels in the region’s water to be higher than that of dangerous waste, however, the city failed to warn its residents about the danger for months. At present State officials are facing criminal charges for their role.
The devastating health results of this lapse are now becoming clear. The latest study finds that the city’s lead crisis has sparked a fall in birth rates and a precipitous rise in the miscarriages as well. For a working paper, Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas compared the fertility rates in Flint with those in other Michigan cities before and after the Flint changed its water source in 2014.
What they found was fertility, or the birth rate, has declined by 12%among Flint women, and the fetal death rates have increased by 58%. The authors have described the difference as “horrifyingly large,” however say it’s also an undercount since it doesn’t include miscarriages that happened before the 20th week of gestation. The sad part is that most women don’t know about the lead threat.
“Overall, we found that approximately 275 fewer children were born in Flint than we would have expected had the city not changed its water source,” Grossman told in a statement.
The babies born in Flint are also slightly, not much, less healthy as they were elsewhere. However, the authors have cautioned that those kids might have to face the full brunt of lead’s negative health impacts. Lead exposure causes “decreased educational attainment, increased behavioral problems and criminal behavior, and worse labor-market outcomes,” author writes. The toxin decreases the IQ, the potential for life. The number of Flint children with lead-poisoned blood has roughly doubled when the city changed water sources.
Flint is just another example of how the health of low-income communities can be damaged by the environment, and by the high-level policy decisions. Flint is majority-black, according to Washington Post, and it is nation’s poorest city. However, in this case, the only time when low-income people and people of color have been disproportionately affected by lead. Studies have revealed that black neighborhoods are, on an average, more likely to be impacted by the lead toxicity than predominantly white areas.
The problem often begins with housing segregation, which makes pockets of housing that go without inspections and renovations. Vann Newkirk reported, in New Orleans, “housing discrimination in the city had forced generations of black residents into segregated wards and neighborhoods, often located in the areas with the highest risk for both lead poisoning and flooding.” The city’s housing authority, HANO, he writes, “simply didn’t respond to thousands of complaints or keep buildings up to code. In 1994, 15 years after HANO was labeled a ‘troubled’ development, HUD inspectors visited 150 units in the neighborhood and found that all 150 units failed to meet standards—with problems including peeling lead paint, asbestos exposure, and massive roach infestations—and that none of the units had been updated at all in 10 years.”
In Baltimore, around 65,000 children were found to have high blood-lead levels between 1993 to 2013, according to the FiveThirtyEight. Freddie Gray, who died in police custody after growing up in the Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, received a settlement for the lead poisoning. The Baltimore Sun says, “experts suggest Gray’s mental impairment by lead poisoning might have played a role in his struggles in school and his involvement in the drug trade.”
Although Baltimore has a step towards lead abatement, the city has also recognized the link between its lead-tainted homes and it’s historically high fetal as well as infant-mortality rates.
The health consequences of lead have been known for decades. However even after they became clear, industry leaders and the policy makers would blame the affected people for their ailments.
As Laura Bliss reported for the CityLab, in 1957 meeting of the Health and Safety for the Lead Industries Association featured director Manfred Bowditch admitting, “The major source of trouble is the flaking of lead paint in the ancient slum dwellings of our older cities.” “It was necessary,” Bliss wrote, “‘to educate the parents’ about the risk of lead paint, Bowditch complained to a colleague in 1956. ‘But most of the cases are in Negro and Puerto Rican families, and how does one tackle that job?’”