The US state of Michigan has declared a state of emergency in the city of Flint after its water supply was poisoned by toxic lead, leading to severe illnesses among its 100,000 residents with children suffering the worst.
Flint’s mayor has described the situation as a “man-made disaster” over the past 18 months after the impoverished American city stopped receiving its water supply from the nearby Detroit because of unaffordable price rises in water rates.
Sean Kammer, an assistant to Flint’s administrator, told Al Jazeera that the city “is in the process of turning a corner” as its administration seeks funds to revamp its antiquated water infrastructure, which played a major part in the lead poisonings.
The city administration has tried to provide water filters to all of Flint’s 30,000 households and potable water to its schools.
After Detroit raised its rates in March, Flint started sourcing its water locally from the Flint River. However, the nature of its water caused the old pipelines to corrode.
The toxic, lead-filled mixture was consumed in most homes, causing severe and irreversible health damage to many children.
David Murray, press secretary for Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, told Al Jazeera the state administration had been “working closely with the city to focus on health issues affecting children and other city residents, and address water infrastructure challenges”.
“The state also has offered more than $10 million in grants and other financial assistance to cover part of the payment for the temporary switch to the Great Lakes Water Authority until Flint’s new water source is ready to go online, as well as efforts to improve existing city water infrastructure and purchase water filters for residents,” Murray said.
However, residents say the state’s efforts came too late and they accuse the administration of ignoring public concerns over the tainted-water crisis since it started.
Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician conducting research on the health crisis in Flint, told Al Jazeera that her main concern was how children have been affected, since they are the most vulnerable to the “life-altering” effects of lead poisoning.
“First of all, there is no safe level of lead. Our research showed that lead levels doubled in most children screened. In the poorer neighbourhoods, those levels tripled,” said Hanna-Attisha.
“Lead poisoning has long-term impacts. It affects your cognitive development, your intelligence, and it is directly linked to violent behaviour.”
She also noted that a recent study had found lead poisoning can have a “multigenerational impact”.
“DNA changes caused by lead exposure have affected grandchildren,” Hanna-Attisha said.
The doctor is pressing for measures that could soften the impact of the health crisis by working with state legislators to provide better public access to nutrition and medical care in the impoverished city.
Hanna-Attisha is one of many in Flint who blame Michigan’s government for failing to pay heed to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s calls to apply corrosion control to the Flint River’s pipe system before using its water supply.
“The people have been traumatised and lied to for 18 months. The people are angry and they have little trust in government,” Hanna-Attisha said.
Michigan Senator Jim Ananich has said that “it is alarming that no one within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality seemed to see there was a lead problem, despite numerous red flags”.
|State of emergency declared in US city over water safety|