Toxic Water Crisis in Flint — Could This Happen In Your City?
By Dr. Mercola
The Flint water crisis began 2 years ago, in April 2014, when the state of Michigan took over city management and decided to switch Flint’s water supply from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water to water from the Flint River — a notoriously polluted waterway.
As noted by long-time Flint resident Rhonda Kelso:1 “We thought it was a joke. People my age and older thought ‘They’re not going to do that.'” But, it wasn’t a joke.
This cost-cutting strategy was implemented to save $5 million — a temporary measure while a new pipeline was being built for the newly created Karegnondi Water Authority, which would supply water to the mid-Michigan area, including Flint.
Undemocratic Cost-Saving Measure Puts Residents at Grave Risk
Alas, problems became apparent almost immediately following the switch. Residents noticed their tap water had turned a dirty brown, and it had an odd smell and taste.
A year later, Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters finally turned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help after she and other concerned residents kept getting the runaround from local officials.
As reported by CNN,2 Walters has two young twin boys, both of whom had developed strange rashes, and when one of her children was diagnosed with lead poisoning, Walters became determined to get answers.
Other people also suffered mysterious illnesses, including hair loss, nervous system disorders, and cancer. Many of them were children. However, the EPA turned out to be just as unhelpful.
The featured documentary, “Here’s to Flint,” created by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, reveals how this entirely preventable tragedy was allowed to occur, and how the residents of Flint — who refused to believe the lies fed to them by state and local officials — finally won.
10 Flint Residents Killed by Legionella Bacteria in One Year
In August 2015, Virginia Tech scientists discovered Flint’s tap water was contaminated with, in some cases, astronomically high levels of lead; a well-recognized neurotoxin associated with reduced IQ, behavioral problems, and hearing loss — and that’s in miniscule amounts.
Exposure to larger amounts (that are still small, relatively speaking) can cause coma, convulsions and death.
They also found a number of other toxins, including high levels of trihalomethanes3 — carcinogenic byproducts from water treatment — and dangerous bacteria such as E.coli and Legionella, the latter of which is suspected of causing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Between 2014 and 2015, 87 people in Genesee County contracted Legionnaires’; 10 of them died. It’s considered one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires’ in U.S. history.4
According to Genesee County Health director Jim Henry, state officials blocked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from investigating the outbreak.
Henry suspected Flint River water right from the start, but CDC protocols require an invitation from state officials. County officials requested help from the CDC, but they never showed up because state officials never issued the prerequisite invitation.
EPA Director Covered Up Lead Contamination
Adding insult to injury, when EPA Region 5 Director Susan Hedman was informed about the high levels of lead in Flint water, she tried to keep it secret. As reported by CNN:5
“Hedman resigned in January amid the crisis … But for several months, Hedman did little to fix the problems … Walters knew her water was tainted with lead. The levels were so high that they were twice the level considered to be toxic waste.
The EPA says anything over 15 ppb is unsafe, and Walters’ home tested at more than 13,000 ppb. ‘I don’t think there’s words for that. It was one of those grab the counter top, oh my god, kind of moments,’ she said.
In June, [EPA scientist Miguel] Del Toral wrote a memo highlighting preliminary findings of ‘serious concerns for residents’ and ‘violations’ of federal regulations … But … Hedman and the EPA did not immediately act.
Instead, Walters said Del Toral was silenced, told not to talk about Flint and not to talk to people in Flint. Emails show Hedman downplayed the memo, writing that Del Toral ‘inappropriately released a draft report’ …
[I]t was 11 months from the time that an EPA official first expressed concern over high levels of lead in Walters’ home … until the EPA issued an emergency order in Flint.” [Emphasis mine]
What Happened in Flint Is Not an Isolated Incidence
The water crisis in Flint has brought the consequences of industrial dumping to the forefront of Americans’ minds.
There are at least two parties to blame in the Flint crisis — the industries that used the Flint River as their free private toxic industrial dumping ground, and the state officials who decided it would be a good idea to swap the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in order to save money.
Tragic as the Flint catastrophe is, it is, sadly, not an isolated event. Children in other states, from New York to Pennsylvania to Illinois, are also at risk of lead poisoning, some even more so than the children in Flint. Many are simply unaware there’s a problem with their water.
For instance, nearly 5 percent of Flint children tested positive for elevated lead levels compared to 8.5 percent in Pennsylvania, 6.7 percent in parts of New York State, and 20 percent in Detroit.6 In the U.S. as a whole, more than half a million children between the ages of 1 and 5 suffer from lead poisoning.
In fact, a recent investigation7 suggests at least 350 schools and day care centers across the U.S. test above the EPA’s “action level” for lead content in water. One Maine elementary school tested 41 times above the action level.
One bathroom sink in Caroline Elementary School had a lead level of 5,000 ppb — the cutoff level at which the EPA considers it “toxic waste.” So clearly, this is a far more widespread problem than anyone may have realized, and it’s certainly not limited to the town of Flint.
Meanwhile, lead is but one toxin in the environment that’s been implicated in poisoning both children and adults. As Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., an environmental health specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, told The New York Times, “Lead poisoning is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.'”8
U.S. Infrastructure Is Faltering
Each year, red flags over toxic drinking water are raised across the nation, with reasons varying from location to location. Aging water pipes — which is part of the problem in Flint — have become an increasingly common source of toxic exposure across the U.S9 As noted by Eric Scorsone, Ph.D., an economist at Michigan State University:
“Flint is an extreme case, but nationally, there’s been a lack of investment in water infrastructure. This is a common problem nationally — infrastructure maintenance has not kept up.”
Indeed, in 2013 the American Society for Civil Engineers10 found that most of the drinking water infrastructure across the nation is “nearing the end of its useful life.” The American Water Works Association estimates it would cost more than $1 trillion to update and replace all the water pipes in the U.S. — money that many water utilities simply do not have. This means another Flint catastrophe could occur just about anywhere, at any time.
After a 2-Year Long Fight, Corrective Action Is Finally Taken
In October 2015, Michigan finally relented and switched Flint’s water supply back to the Great Lakes. Two months later, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized for the state’s mishandling of the situation in Flint, and said the state had allocated $10 million to water testing and distribution of water filters.
Dan Wynant, head of the state Department of Environmental Quality, resigned.11 Alas, as of March 2016, residents still couldn’t drink the water out of their tap. According to CNN:
“And not just out of an abundance of caution. Not a single lead service line has been replaced in Flint, until now. Despite testing that shows that water lead levels have dropped in many Flint homes, there are still more than 600 homes where the water tested well above the EPA’s action level for lead.
Homes like that of Fortina Harris. Harris has trained his two young grandsons never to touch the water. ‘You can’t trust the government. Their trust gone down the Flint River,’ said Harris, reviewing his water test results.”
The lead problem remains because the corrosive nature of the Flint River water, and officials’ failure to properly implement corrosive control measures, did so much damage to the aging water pipes that simply switching back to cleaner water isn’t enough. All those old pipes now need to be replaced in order to stop lead from leaching into the drinking water. Had state officials been open to scientific facts from the start, this situation could easily have been predicted, and avoided.
The state sought to save $5 million, and their disastrous decisions will now end up costing an estimated $55 million — that’s the amount of money Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver has asked for to begin replacing 8,000 lead-based city service lines. The first service line replacement began on March 4, under the city’s “Fast Start” initiative.12
Lies Can, and Do, Kill
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has done a great job of producing this film — it’s a profoundly sad statement and a firm warning to Americans everywhere about what can happen when government officials are blinded by greed to the plight of the people.
The water crisis in Flint has become a hot political issue this campaign season, as contaminated water supplies are rampant throughout many parts of the United States. For those communities, the story of Flint should serve as both a precautionary tale and an inspiring blueprint for how to take back our power from inhumane, ruthless, and apathetic leaders.
At-Home Water Filtration Is a Must for Clean Pure Water
Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn’t be more important. If you have well water, it would be prudent to have your water tested for arsenic and other contaminants. If you have public water, you can get local drinking water quality reports from the EPA.13 In general, most water supplies contain a number of potentially hazardous contaminants, from fluoride, to drugs and disinfection byproducts (DBPs), just to name a few.
For this reason, I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. To be certain you’re getting the purest water you can, filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink and shower.
One of the best filtration systems I’ve found so far is the Pure & Clear Whole House Water Filtration System, which uses a three-stage filtration process — a micron sediment pre-filter, a KDF water filter, and a high-grade carbon water filter14 — to filter out chlorine, DBPs, and other contaminants. Here’s a picture of what the setup looks like.
The Importance of Living Water for Optimal Health
Besides purification, for optimal health I also believe it’s important to drink living water. Two years ago, I interviewed Gerald Pollack, Ph.D., about his book, “The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor.” This fourth phase of water is referred to as “structured water” and is the type of water found in all of your cells.
This water is more energized and can help recharge your mitochondria. Water from a deep spring is one excellent source of structured water. The deeper the better, as structured water is created under pressure. There’s a great website called FindASpring.com15 where you can find a natural spring in your area.
You can also promote structured water through vortexing or cooling it to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. By creating a vortex in a glass of water, you’re putting more energy into it, thereby increasing the structure of the water. According to Pollack, virtually ANY energy put into the water seems to create or build structured water.