Growing up in Detroit, I would occasionally drive one-hour to Flint, Michigan to hang out with friends near the banks of the Flint River (pictured).
Back then, more than 40 years ago, we would eat at fast-food restaurants and drink water straight from the tap without fear of getting lead poisoning.
Today, times have changed: Flint is experiencing a widespread health crisis that has impacted thousands of children who have been diagnosed with lead in their bloodstreams.
It’s sad, it’s a humanitarian catastrophe — and it borders on criminal.
Health officials say that 8,177 children younger than five who live in Flint — a city that is 60% African-American– have been exposed to lead, according to records from the Census Bureau.
And long-term exposure for infants and children can lead to “delays in physical or mental development; children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s real danger that the injury is going to be permanent and lifelong in them,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told CBS News.
It’s a shame that Flint officials put the lives of so many children and adults at risk to save money. In April 2014, Flint officials decided to cut costs by switching its water source from Lake Huron water, supplied by the Detroit water system, to water from the Flint River. Residents immediately began complaining about the water’s taste and also said it was cloudy and had a foul smell.
The health situation has gotten so dire that President Barack Obama allocated $80 million in federal funds to improve the city’s water systems.
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities,” Obama said last week at the White House. “That’s not something that we should accept.”
The president is right — and his comment raises another critical question: If so many Flint residents were severely harmed because they drank contaminated water, have any Flint’s city officials — who presumably live in Flint — reported that they have also been exposed to lead poisoning from the polluted water?
Meanwhile, there’s enough blame to go around and there are a lot of folks passing the buck. Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder is facing calls for his resignation. He claims he got bad information from environmental officials and didn’t move fast enough to fix the problem.
It’s a pretty weak excuse. And I’m not buying it.
“I’m sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder said last week during his speech to state officials. “You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this. Government failed you at the federal, state and local level. We need to make sure this never happens again in any Michigan city.”
That’s too little, too late for the 8,177 children who could experience health problems for the rest of their lives because Flint officials wanted to save money.
It begs the question: would state officials have put a greater emphasis on fixing the problem if Flint wasn’t a predominantly Black, poor city?
“I spent a lot of time last week being outraged by what’s happening in Flint, Michigan and I think every single American should be outraged,” Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president said last week during the presidential debate. “We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population which is poor in many ways and majority African-American has been drinking and bathing in lead contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care.”
LeeAnne Walters, a mother from Flint, set a series of investigations in motion. In April 2014, she noticed that her son got a rash every time he played in the swimming pool at their home in Flint. By December, she had stopped letting any of her children drink the water coming out of her tap. She called local authorities to complain and subsequently exposed the lead outbreak in the water system.
Last week, a hospital in Flint reported that low levels of Legionnaires’ disease bacteria were discovered in its water system. Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory bacterial infection usually spread through mist that comes from a water source, officials said.
I last drank water from the tap in Flint 40 years ago. But I feel sadness for the children of Flint who have been drinking the tainted water since 2014.
What do you think?
(Photo: Associated Press)