The Residents of Flint Need to Know the Truth About Lead Poisoning


This article about Flint is heartbreaking, but not quite for the obvious reason:

Health care workers are scrambling to help the people here cope with what many fear will be chronic consequences of the city’s water contamination crisis: profound stress, worry, depression and guilt.

….Diane Breckenridge, Genesee Health’s liaison to local hospitals, said she had seen “people come into the hospitals directly related to breakdowns, nervous breakdowns, if you will….Most of it’s been depression or suicidal ideation directly linked to what’s going on with their children,” she added. “They just feel like they can’t even let their children take a bath.” Children, too, are traumatized, said Dexter Clarke, a supervisor at Genesee Health, not least because they constantly hear frightening things on television about the lead crisis, including breathless advertisements by personal injury lawyers seeking clients.

….Too often now, Nicole Lewis cannot sleep….To help her nerves, she recently installed a home water filtration system, paying $42.50 a month for the service on her main water supply line. She also bought a blender to make her sons smoothies with lead-leaching vegetables, like spinach and kale.

But still her mind races, especially late at night. Her 7-year-old was just found to have attention deficit disorder, she said. Her 2-year-old is already showing athletic promise, but she wonders whether lead exposure will affect his ability to play sports.

These people desperately need to be told the truth:

  • What happened in Flint was a horrible, inexcusable tragedy.
  • Residents have every right to be furious with government at all levels.
  • But the health effects are, in fact, pretty minimal. With a few rare exceptions, the level of lead contamination caused by Flint’s water won’t cause any noticeable cognitive problems in children. It will not lower IQs or increase crime rates 20 years from now. It will not cause ADHD. It will not affect anyone’s ability to play sports. It will not cause anyone’s hair to fall out. It will not cause cancer. And “lead leaching” vegetables don’t work.

For two years, about 5 percent of the children in Flint recorded blood lead levels greater than 5 m/d. This is a very moderate level for a short period of time. In every single year before 2010, Flint was above this number; usually far, far above.

The choices here are sickening. On the one hand, nobody wants to downplay the effects of lead poisoning, or even be viewed as downplaying them. On the other hand, feeding the hysteria surrounding Flint has real consequences. The residents of Flint should not be tormented about what’s going on. They should not be flocking to therapists. They should not be gulping Xanax.

Of course, at this point Flint residents probably don’t believe anything the government tells them, and for understandable reasons. So maybe it’s time for someone they trust a little more to begin telling them the truth. I’m looking at you, Rachel Maddow.

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