More Revealed As Flint’s Water Crisis Investigation Unfolds
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
April 2014 marked the beginning of Flint, Michigan’s crisis. Amid a financial slump the state decided to temporarily switch Flint's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The water from the Flint River turned out to be so corrosive that it caused the lead from the pipes to seep into the water.
Lead poisoning has consistently been linked to causing abdominal pain, vomiting, headaches, seizures, and more. However, scientists have recently discovered new health issues plaguing those in contact with the water.
Long before Michigan officials admitted to the contaminated water, Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards found lead in Flint’s drinking water. Recently Professor Edwards released to CNN results of a study that show the Flint water crisis most likely caused the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires.
"What we discovered was that when the Flint River water went into the system it released a lot of iron, and removed the disinfectant from the water," Edwards said. "And in combination, those two factors, the iron as a nutrient and the disinfectant disappearing, allowed legionella to thrive in buildings where it could not do so previously."
Legionnaires' disease spreads through mist in the air rather than from person to person, it is a potentially fatal type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs.
Another health abnormality affecting the residents of Flint is a surge of miscarriages.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established that an abundance of lead in pregnant women can lead the baby to have damaged vital organs, could cause the baby to have learning and development problems, and increases the risk of having a miscarriage.
Testing has revealed that lead levels that some areas in Flint were dozens or hundreds times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's safety threshold.
According to research done by Daniel Grossman from the Department of Economics at West Virginia University, College of Business and Economics and David Slusky from the Department of Economics at the University of Kansas, there has been a “horrifyingly large” increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages in Flint. The study estimates that among the babies conceived from November 2013 through March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.”
The report relates the nearly identical findings to results that were found in Washington D.C from 2000 to 2003, when lead levels in the drinking water were high in the state.
Grossman and Slusky went on to compare birth and fetal death rates in Flint with those in other Michigan cities, including Detroit, Lansing, Dearborn, and Grand Rapids. Areas that “provide[d] a natural control group for Flint in that they are economically similar areas and, with the exception of the change in water supply, followed similar trends in fertility and birth outcomes over this time period.”
They found “a substantial decrease in fertility rates in Flint for births conceived around October 2013, which persisted through the end of 2015. Flint switched its water source in April 2014, meaning these births would have been exposed to this new water for a substantial period in utero [at least one trimester].”
Other cities in Michigan showed no such drop.
They next turned to deaths of fetuses of 20 weeks gestation and older, excluding abortions, which are reported by hospitals. The change in Flint amounted to a 58 percent increase in fetal deaths, compared to areas not afflicted by lead-poisoned water.
Additional affects are a possibility as the children born during this period were subsequently exposed to lead outside of the womb as well, potentially setting themselves up for a host of physical and behavioral problems later in life.
In connection, six current or former Flint and Michigan officials are facing involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the more than 80 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and at least 12 deaths that were believed to be linked to the water in Flint. Among the six are Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive and Nick Lyon, director of the Health and Human Services Department.
The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is also in hot water after testifying to a U.S. House of Representatives committee last year that he was not notified of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease linked to the Flint water crisis until 2016, while published reports of one of his aides, Harvey Hollins, say that he had notified Snyder in December 2015.
The state of Michigan is suing Flint to force it to make a 30-year deal with Great Lakes Water. Judge David Lawson had ordered the council to come up with a long-term water source by Oct. 23. Instead, the council asked for more time. Judge Lawson has since set a hearing for Nov. 13.