How did Flint’s drinking water get so bad?

Due to a financial crisis with the city budget, the state decided to temporarily switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure until a new supply line to Lake Huron was ready. The river had a reputation for nastiness, and after the April 2014 switch, residents complained their water looked, smelled and tasted funny.

State officials initially told residents everything was OK. Mayor Dayne Walling even made a point to drink the water on local TV, until Virginia Tech researchers in August performed tests and found the elevated lead levels.  After Virginia Tech researchers tested the water and found the quality to be not just poor but dangerous the city switched back to the Lake Huron water supply in October, but the damage was already done to the lead pipes. Since so many service lines to Flint are made of lead, the noxious element (lead) leached into the water of the city’s homes.

How contaminated is Flint’s drinking water

The water supply in Flint, Michigan is so contaminated with lead that it’s spewing out of faucets in unnatural yellow and brown colors. Blood tests show increased levels of poisonous lead in children who live there. It’s so bad the city’s 100,000 residents have to live off bottled water. But not everyone can afford it.

Some allege that this happened because the state Department of Environmental Quality didn’t treat the water for corrosion, in accordance with the federal law. The State is now using the National Guard to hand out filters and bottled water.


Health Problems Caused by Lead

We have concrete evidence that lead exposure can affect a developing child’s IQ, resulting in learning disabilities. Here some more health concerns and effects of lead provided by the CDC. Generally, lead affects children more than it does adults. Children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels than adults. Neurological effects and mental retardation have also occurred in children whose parent(s) may have job-related lead exposure. So direct exposure to lead through drinking can be a very serious problem for children.

Within our bodies, lead is absorbed and stored in our bones, blood, and tissues. It does not stay there permanently, rather it is stored there as a source of continual internal exposure. As we age, our bones demineralize and the internal exposures may increase as a result of larger releases of lead from the bone tissue. There is concern that lead may mobilize from the bone among women undergoing menopause. Post-menopausal women have been found to have higher blood lead levels than pre-menopausal women. 

Because these symptoms may occur slowly or may be caused by other things, lead poisoning can be easily overlooked. Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death.

Lead can cross the placental barrier, which means pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).

A person who is exposed to lead over time may feel:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipated
  • Depressed
  • Distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Irritable
  • Nauseous/Sick

People with prolonged exposure to lead may also be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility.

Federal State of Emergency Declaration

Flint, Michigan: President Obama Signs Federal State of Emergency Declaration Due to City’s Water Crisis Gov. Rick Snyder made the request Thursday regarding lead-contaminated water in the city, he said in a statement. Obama signed the declaration on Saturday.


Soldiers of the Michigan National Guard inprocess at the Saginaw armory Thursday in preparation to support distribution operations in Flint. The Soldiers completed the process Thursday and were at the fire stations Friday morning helping to distribute water, filters and water test kits. (U.S. National Guard photo by Spc. Eric Bandy/Released)

The people of Flint have been betrayed,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said, speaking at a church rally a day after President Obama declared a federal emergency over contaminated water. “This is the time for us to make a bigger statement than we have made in a long time. You can never tell when the spirit will strike and then it’s time for everyone to move.”