No quick fix in US town where water supply is contaminated with lead
The water crisis in Flint means doing the simplest things requires immense effort.
Last night, for example, Simone Rauls washed the hair of her six year old daughter London. Now she’s worried because it took six full bottles of water. She hadn’t counted on needing so much, so today she’ll have to brave the frigid temperatures, and go back to the fire station to get more bottles of water from the National Guard.
Simone says she lies awake at night trying to calculate what water she needs for cooking vegetables, and admits they’re eating more ready meals and take-away now, because that way there’s no water required.
She has a water filter on her sink tap, but doesn’t trust it.
London and her brother Roman both have welts on their skin, and sores. London says her skin itches and her stomach aches. They try to minimize bath time. Simone says she’ s watchful, but sometimes the kids forget, and brush their teeth in tap water. She’s not had their lead levels tested but says she will. Soon.
LeeAnne Walters’ four year old twin boys only had baths once a week. It was a lengthy process – gallons of water heated on the stove top and in the microwave, that was then decanted into the tub. In the icy Michigan winter, it cooled so fast, Gavin and Garrett needed more hot water as soon as the last warm splash mixed through.
In truth, the labour involved with avoiding the toxic water that gushed from the taps in Flint was a mere inconvenience, compared to the long term costs to the family’s health. Particularly Gavin’s. He once matched his brother’s growth pound for pound, but now he’s noticeably slight.
His immune-deficient condition made him more vulnerable to lead-poisoning. He developed anemia and speech problems. His hair has come back, but his mother worries she won’t know the full effects of the contaminated water for years.
Testing of the water at their house nearly two years ago revealed lead levels at 120 parts per billion. The standard is just 15.
Only now is there public acknowledgment that the contamination discovered in their water affected the whole town, and potentially as many as nine thousand children under six years of age.
For two years the authorities claimed nothing was wrong. But it was.
It was all a consequence of the decision by the cash-strapped city of Flint, in Michigan, to draw highly corrosive water from a river to save money.
Now everyone is either remonstrating or apologizing: from the President, to Presidential hopefuls, to the governor, to Cher. Everyone suddenly wants to help.
The day we interview the former mayor at his house, another TV crew pounds on his door demanding answers.
He is full of regrets, and wishes now he’d asked state authorities to triple check the problems he says he raised. He himself was misled, he insists, his authority compromised by an emergency manager appointed directly by the governor.
There are class actions pending – two of them. There are at least two official inquiries underway – one led by the US attorney general.
Workers at the state environment agency who rigged test results have lost their jobs. The Michigan governor has promised to release his emails.
But there is no short term fix for the bathrooms and kitchens of the good folk of Flint, or the nurseries and schools their children attend.
The pipes that deliver water are so corroded by the Flint River, they turn sweet water toxic. There’s no magic that can undo the lead exposure that’s already occurred. It will endure at least as long as the community’s anger at their betrayal.
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