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Flint, Michigan Declares State of Emergency Over Lead In Children's Blood (washingtonpost.com) 303

schwit1 writes: The Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan released a study in September that confirmed what many Flint parents had feared for over a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source, in 2014. "City officials have also said the use of corrosive Flint River water also damaged Flint's water infrastructure after state regulators never required the river water be treated to make it less corrosive." FEMA is now supplying bottled water to the city.
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Flint, Michigan Declares State of Emergency Over Lead In Children's Blood

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  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:36PM (#51125189) Journal

    state regulators never required the river water be treated to make it less corrosive

    Man, I bet those city officials must have a serious headache what with the state regulators not telling them not to hit their head with hammers.

    • The Flint city government was essentially taken over by the state in 2011.

    • by Matheus ( 586080 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:33PM (#51125673) Homepage

      Hey at least the lake hasn't caught on fire in a while...

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @07:06PM (#51125871)
      Seriously. From what I can tell what we haven't eliminated outright we've defunded to the point where it doesn't exist anymore. It's not really a law if nobody enforces it. It's like complaining to the labor board in Arizona. There isn't one. It wasn't staffed.
  • by Electrawn ( 321224 ) <electrawn.yahoo@com> on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:41PM (#51125225) Homepage

    Lots of feels for Flint.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ah! So that's why people split their first sentence between the subject and the body - it's the lead in the water!!

  • So? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ultra64 ( 318705 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:42PM (#51125233)

    What's wrong with having the most blood?

    • by neminem ( 561346 )

      Personally, I was wondering what the case was that involved children's blood (sounds interesting!), what lead they found, and why a state of emergency was called because of it.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:43PM (#51125239)

    Wasn't Flint the city that basically got abandoned by GM when they closed their plants years ago? They're held up as a poster child for Rust Belt decline, much the same way my hometown was back in the 80s. So the question is where the lead is coming from -- is it a natural source? I thought most large-scale industrial activity that could cause that much lead emission outside of auto production was done in Michigan long ago.

    Whatever the cause, talk about a crappy set of circumstances. A city now has an environmental mess to deal with after losing all of its industry and chance of a recovery.

    • So the question is where the lead is coming from -- is it a natural source?

      Mainly from lead solder in the water pipes. When the water leaves the purification plant, it is below federal standards. The river water has higher chloride levels, which are corrosive to the solder.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        What incredible idiots use leaded solder on pipes for potable water?

        • Check it out [mlive.com], not just lead solder, but also actual lead water pipes. It's amazing they don't all have brain damage.

          On the other hand, Mitt Romney's from that area (I kid, I kid).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

      IIRC, the water is not (especially) polluted. The problem is that the water is leaching lead and other contaminants out of the pipes. The Detriot water was, apparently, not so hard on the distribution system, hence why the river water is the problem.

      I agree with your closing: this is a really shitty set of circumstances, and the partisans really aren't helping. "Blame the democrats, they own the government," and "blame the Republicans, they appointed the emergency management that changed the water source

    • I worked in a water testing lab many years ago. This lead is almost certainly coming from lead pipes and solder because the pH of the water is too low. Raising the pH to 7.5-8.5 would minimise plumbosolvency [wikipedia.org] and combining that with phosphate dosing would practically eliminate it.

    • by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:08PM (#51125477) Homepage

      Not really abandoned as much as Flint made it a very easy choice for GM to leave when other options became available. The extremely corrupt union locals and local politicians in Flint made it impossible for GM to continue doing business there. While many other rust belt cities faced similar challenges in keeping the manufacturing companies from leaving, Flint was a cut above in terms of being actively hostile to the auto business. It was no surprise at all to those of us in the region when GM left Flint.

      Many of the surrounding cities in a ~50 mile radius of Flint still have large manufacturing businesses, including auto industry, so it was not something that effected the entire region to anywhere near the degree of Flint. The attitude and culture in Flint was really different and GM responded by washing their hands of that mess and leaving.

  • Nearly doubled (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fwipp ( 1473271 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:44PM (#51125249)

    Because "nearly doubled" isn't a super useful stat for evaluating the relevance of something:

    In the affected area, 2.1% of children less than 5 years old had "elevated" blood levels of lead (more than 5ug/dL). After switching to the new water source, 4.0% of children less than 5 had elevated lead levels. Sample size was about 900 both before & after the water switch; so this roughly translates to 18 unexpected cases in the study. The population of Flint is about 100K, with 8% under 5 years old, so we can estimate that somewhere around 160 children in Flint received a high dose of lead as a result of the water switch.

    • Re:Nearly doubled (Score:5, Interesting)

      by careysub ( 976506 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:30PM (#51125641)

      Of course this is "so far". This is after only 15 months or of exposure. If detection and intervention had not occurred this number would have kept rising as lead accumulated in children's bodies.

      • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

        Oh yes, I totally agree. If it wasn't clear from my post, I think it's absolutely abhorrent that so many people have come to harm due to this decision, and I'm glad that they've finally got their water switched back to the Detroit system.

  • Anyone who has lived in michigan knows, you dont live on the south east side of the state. it's all a mess and so corrupt that anything goes.

  • by nawcom ( 941663 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:45PM (#51125259) Homepage

    You won't find the phrase "Emergency Manager" in this article, which indirectly positions the parasitic state government as our saviors in this crisis. And yes, I can say that without apologizing for city misconduct. When a newspaper of record like the Washington Post or The New York Times fails to report a detail as enormous as the persistent erosion and suspension of home rule in a time of public austerity, they essentially mislead their readers and distort the historical record.

    Here are a few details that the Detroit Free Press and the Flint Journal managed to include but which the Washington Post and the New York Times did not:

    - In 2011, newly elected Governor Rick Snyder passed Public Act 4 which allowed him to appoint an Emergency Manager over financially distressed cities with the power to liquidate assets, suspend and renegotiate contracts, and even disincorporate cities.

    - In 2012, Michigan voters repealed Public Act 4 by public referendum, but within weeks the Republican majorities in the state legislature passed an almost identical bill, Public Act 436, that, as an appropriation, is referendum proof. Snyder signed this bill.

    - From most of 2011 to 2015, Flint has been under a sequence of four Emergency Managers who, during their tenure suspended local officials, liquidated assets and, oh yes, DECIDED TO DRAW OUR DRINKING WATER SUPPLY FROM THE FLINT RIVER! Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz made the commitment, Emergency Manager Darnell Earley oversaw the transition, and Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose nullified a City Council resolution to switch back to Detroit water in early 2015.

    The Post should be ashamed for the way it has reported this story, and I do not say this lightly. These two so-called "bastions of liberal thought" have helped let an overwhelmingly gerrymandered and Republican-dominated state government off the hook for their role in poisoning 100,000 mostly poor, mostly black people in this city.

    • Dammit; where are my mod points?
    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:07PM (#51125467) Homepage

      Public Act 436, that, as an appropriation, is referendum proof.

      Whoops! Looks like they need to amend their state constitution. Or take this to the Michigan Supreme Court. Their constitution says: [mi.gov]

      The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and to enact and reject laws, called the initiative, and the power to approve or reject laws enacted by the legislature, called the referendum. The power of initiative extends only to laws which the legislature may enact under this constitution. The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds

      I doubt that the writers of the Michigan state constitution meant that legislators could add "...and the state will buy a candy cane" to their laws and have them be referendum-proof. It seems more likely that an appropriations bill was meant to have nothing but appropriations in them. Combining appropriations with other laws blurs the definition of an appropriations bill. I bet there is a good chance the Michigan Supreme Court would either strike down the law, or allow a referendum to proceed against the portions of the bill that are not appropriations.

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        Gah!!!! Other state constitutions say the same thing. [maryland.gov] CRUD!

        CONSTITUTION OF MARYLAND
        ARTICLE XVI
        THE REFERENDUM. ...No law making any appropriation for maintaining the State Government, or for maintaining or aiding any public institution, not exceeding the next previous appropriation for the same purpose, shall be subject to rejection or repeal under this Section.

      • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @09:21PM (#51126645)

        I bet there is a good chance the Michigan Supreme Court would either strike down the law, or allow a referendum to proceed against the portions of the bill that are not appropriations.

        A court that is 7/9 Republican and 3/9 Snyder-appointed? Good luck with that.

    • by pi_rules ( 123171 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @11:09PM (#51127191)

      - In 2011, newly elected Governor Rick Snyder passed Public Act 4 which allowed him to appoint an Emergency Manager over financially distressed cities with the power to liquidate assets, suspend and renegotiate contracts, and even disincorporate cities.

      That's a bit of a half-truth. Michigan's Emergency Financial Manager laws were put in place back in 1990 under Democratic governor Blanchard. It wasn't used too much, but Democratic governor Granholm (2003-2011) appointed 7 of them. With the slight expansion of powers in the 2011-2012 changes one concession was that the local government could boot an EFM after 18 months. Granted, if the "triggers" to require an EFM were still there they'd get a new one, but that's probably why Flint has bounced through so many since 2011.

      WikiPedia has a handy chart of when/where they were used in Michigan. [wikipedia.org]

      The blind partisan vitriol on the issue of EFMs is rather staggering to me. I've seen Snyder called a racist for appointing an EFM (like in Benton Harbor) when all he did was reappoint the EFM previous governor Granholm had already put in place.

      And it's not like the new water treatment system was a new idea. Flint spent $50 million upgrading their unused water treatment system between 1998 and 2006, well before anything related to EFMs came into play, though they were under one from 2002-2004. I don't think it's all that illogical to ask/force a city government that just spent $50 million on a water treatment plant to actually use it instead of buying it from Detroit and letting the plant sit idle while they go broke.

  • What I’d like to know is how the advice to boil the water was going to make it safe for drinking? Even now they are saying safe for washing and cooking. Again, if it is lead, why is it safe to cook with it? The idiocy just never seems to end. Perhaps all the politicians in Flint have lead poisoning as well.

    • by starless ( 60879 )

      What I’d like to know is how the advice to boil the water was going to make it safe for drinking?

      Well, if you boil it... and condense the water vapor... you should be OK...
      (As long as you don't make your still out of lead pipes.)

    • by halivar ( 535827 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [reglefb]> on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:05PM (#51125451)

      My guess is that you are supposed boil your water that came out of the tap cold, rather than using hot water from the tap. As per the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm), hot water contains more lead, and boiling THAT water does not remove the lead. But if you do need hot water, you will need to boil cold tap water instead.

    • Boiling isn't to remove the lead, but to kill pathogens and remove some dissolved solvents and possibly some of that corrosive stuff that caused the lead to leach into the water.

      • Again if lead is a major contributor as is acknowledged, cooking with it will not be safe. You can remove the volatiles and any bacterial contaminates yes, but the lead remains. Why say it is still safe to cook with? Even earlier when the were advising boil to drink, were they aware at all about the lead levels? Seems more like a desire to play down the hazard by giving the populace something to do, even if ineffective.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:51PM (#51125311) Journal
    According to this article [mlive.com], when the water leaves the treatment plant, it is lead-free (within an acceptable margin of error). The problem comes from old (ie, still being built in the 1980s) pipes that used lead solder to connect the copper. The older pipes are around the city and inside homes, and will take 15 years to replace.

    The water from the river has higher levels of chloride, and chloride is corrosive to iron, which caused the lead to leach off into the water.
  • Just curious, what color are Flint people? Are they perhaps mostly not-white? Because I have trouble imagining this happening in, say, Grosse Pointe, for example.

  • Sloppy summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elledan ( 582730 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @05:54PM (#51125343) Homepage
    After reading the friendly summary & article one might be left confused about where this lead is coming from, but according to the Wikipedia entry on the Flint River, it's due to the river's water being corrosive (presumably low pH) and degrading the lead pipes which form part of the water distribution network of the city.

    The water itself is lead-free as it leaves the treatment plant, but still unsuitable for drinking due to containing high levels of carcinogenic trihalomethanes, which was the original reason that the river water was deemed unsuitable for producing potable water from.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_River_(Michigan) [wikipedia.org]
  • According to wikipedia, Flint is one of the most dangerous cities in the USA, with the violent crime per capita seven times higher than average? Lead can be attributed to the violence.

    Also, sort of, explains why Michael Moore is acting the way he is acting, clearly lead in the water of his home town did leave an imprint.

  • The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source, in 2014.

    How much "above average"? There's probably at least one contaminant in most places that's above the national average, but that doesn't automatically mean it's something to be concerned about. I'm not saying this isn't something to be concerned about, but I'm just not quite that's the statistic to gauge it by.

    Obviously the fact that the numbers used to be lower is not a great thing, but if some other town had, and had always had, 4% of kids with "elevated" (a specific amount, it seems) lead blood levels, wou

  • It seems a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to test the water supply than to test the blood of people who have lived with the water supply.
    How did this get missed? Was it intentionally neglected?

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @06:29PM (#51125625)
    See what happens when penny pinchers dictate smaller budgets. Now the city gets free water from the federal government. And not only do they get that benefit they also don't have to pay their kids college expenses. After drinking in all that lead college is not in those kids future. Now try and figure out the total cost of saving those pennies and how many millions upon millions will be required to restore the water system. And, by the way, why did they city not know immediately that lead was in their drinking water? Don't they run tests several times every day?
  • by DanJ_UK ( 980165 ) * on Tuesday December 15, 2015 @07:19PM (#51125941) Homepage
    Hello, Erin Brockovich.

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