Home > Uncategorized > We Are All Flint: Getting the Lead Out Means Getting New Regulations on the Book… and More Money for Infrastructure

We Are All Flint: Getting the Lead Out Means Getting New Regulations on the Book… and More Money for Infrastructure

March 27, 2016

Following the debacle in Flint MI where a recent study determined that the State government was responsible for ignoring high levels of lead in the drinking water in that town in order to save a relatively small amount of money as part of an austerity plan, there have been a series of articles in the NYTimes and in other media outlets describing the perils of lead in drinking water, the depth of the problem in the nation, the decisions that led to this situation, and the high cost to solve the problem.

Yesterday afternoon I read a Times article by Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine who brought the lead in Flint’s drinking water to the State’s attention. Thanks to her persistence, the issue was finally addressed, but, as her article notes, the damage done to children in that community will be difficult to reverse and could persist for generations:

Numerous epidemiologic studies of lead exposure in children, particularly those under the age of 6, indicate an increased risk for damage to cognition, behavior and employment prospects, also lower I.Q.s, poor impulse control and decreased lifetime earnings. Epigenetic research suggests that lead exposure in women can lead to DNA changes in their grandchildren. Their grandchildren.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha believes the effect of the lead exposure can be remediated, but only if swift and decisive action is taken… action that will require money from all levels of the government.

We cannot wait to see the potential cognitive and behavioral consequences; we must act. Developmental neurobiology has taught us that adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress change the trajectory of a child’s life in predictable ways.

But science also gives us hope. We can reduce the impact of these adversities, including lead exposure, when we wrap these children in evidence-based interventions to promote their development. These include maternal infant support and early literacy programs; universal preschool; school health services; nutrition programs; and primary medical care and mental health care. All vulnerable children need these interventions, but kids in Flint need them now, not next month or next year.

Will the State or Federal government come through with money for Flint? Given the reality that Flint is not the only city with a problem, I have my doubts, especially after reading today’s Times article by Michael Wines, Patrick McGeehan, and John Schwartz highlighting the fact that lead in the waters of public schools is a national problem… which is no surprise given the age of most schools in the country. A Sunday feature article, the essay is lengthy and comprehensive but, in my judgement, is captured in one phrase, which is highlighted below:

Schools built before 1986, when an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act banned lead plumbing, pose the greatest hazard. Fountains may be fed water through lead pipes commonly used in the early 20th century. Older water coolers may have lead linings and components.

But even newer buildings can face a threat. Under industry pressure, Congress defined “lead-free” in the amendment as no more than 8 percent lead. Plumbing hardware like faucets and connectors often contained that much lead until 2013, when the permissible level fell to near zero.

If anyone wants to understand everything that is wrong with government today and why our future is threatened now, the phrase “under industry pressure” explains it all. The power of lobbyists and the de facto requirement that anyone running for office needs to raise millions of dollars makes industry pressure a reality… and leads government to de-regulate, to defer spending on costly government infra-structure, to ignore long term problems like climate change, equitable opportunity in public education, and— yes— the impact of lead in drinking water. To paraphrase an oft used slogan: We Are All Flint.

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