(NaturalHealth365) The horrific harms brought about to the human body as a result of lead poisoning – toxicity to the heart, bones, kidneys, intestines, and reproductive and nervous systems, along with learning and behavior disorders – are well-documented. In fact, lead poisoning was one of the first, and most widely studied, environmental hazards, going all the way back to 2nd century BCE.
Given this immense knowledge base, it seems unimaginable, then, that a city in the modern-day United States should find itself devastated by the deadly ills of this heavy metal, its children at risk for serious neurological and learning disorders. Yet, that is exactly the story that has been unfolding in the city of Flint, Michigan, since April 2014.
The penny-pinching water decision that became a costly nightmare
What began as a single decision to address unaffordable water costs for the city of 100,000 has ended up jeopardizing the future of a generation of children living there. In its haste to cut costs, the city’s state-appointed emergency managers also cut corners. The decision was made not to add anti-corrosives to the Flint system because cost estimates came in at $100 per day.
The result? The Flint River water corroded the city’s pipes, leaching toxic metals into Flint’s water supply, including lead. That watershed moment would later be flagged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for investigation.
Soon after making the switch, residents of Flint began to complain that their water tasted and smelled badly, and had a rusty appearance. When chlorine was added to try to solve the problem, corrosion worsened.
Research by the Hurley Medical Center found the incidence of elevated blood lead levels among Flint children under five years old had nearly doubled, jumping from 2.1 percent to 4 percent in the year following the switch to the Flint River as a source of drinking water.
The long-term consequences of lead poisoning
The decision to cheapen out, and ignore all the well-documented safety risks, opened the floodgates to lead contamination in households across the city. Learning disabilities, lowered IQ, reduced growth rate, attention disorders – all are hallmarks of symptoms found in children who have experienced long-term lead exposure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that the effects of the heavy metal on young, developing brains are of highest concern because they are known to be widely “untreatable and irreversible.” The WHO also states that lead exposure routinely results in reduced intelligence and mental retardation.
Lead exposure tends to affect the central nervous system, with symptoms such as insomnia, delirium, cognitive deficits, tremor, hallucinations, and convulsions. Adults suffering from exposure to lead may also experience depression, loss of appetite, intermittent abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and muscle pain. Lead also increase the risk of early labor and low birth weight babies.
Complex set of factors led to poor decisions and devastating results
With about 42 percent of the population living in poverty, economics is behind much of the bad decision making, suspected cover ups and current lack of funds to address the crisis. Located about 70 miles north of Detroit, about 57 percent of Flint’s population is African American. Many find it difficult to believe the entire poisoning of a city would occur in a place with a different demographic profile.
The same holds true for the cover up that occurred as the tragedy unfolded. As growing numbers of residents grew anxious over the safety of the city’s water supply, officials there kept falsely reassuring citizens there was no reason to stop using the water.
Even as months passed with discolored, smelly water trickling from their faucets and children experiencing mysterious rashes and other health symptoms, the official message from authorities remained unchanged. Worse yet, it would later be revealed that local governmental officials suppressed results of lead level testing and rebuffed efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide expert assistance with the crisis.
While Flint residents face a shortage of clean drinking water, another shortage lies in wait for poisoned children – a lack of funding for services that many of them are likely to need, many for an extended period of time.
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