Saturday, February 06, 2016

Lead Test Results Confirm Worst Fears for Flint Family

Photo: Dana Brock, 3, and his mother, Denettra Brown, and grandparents by Hannah Rappleye.

Deep down, the Brown family knew the water that had flowed through the pipes in their home in Flint, Michigan — the water that 3-year-old Dana had been drinking for months before anyone was warned — probably contained toxic lead.

This week, they got test results that confirmed their fears.

Water Defense, the anti-fracking and safe-water activist group headed by actor Mark Ruffalo, collected samples from Oscar and Elizabeth Brown's home last weekend and brought them to an independent lab in Cincinnati for analysis.

The results, which the group shared with NBC News, show that the water coming out of the kitchen faucet, where a filter was installed after state officials finally confirmed the lead crisis this fall, didn't contain any of the heavy metal.

But a sample of the water from the bathtub, which is unfiltered, contained 16 parts per billion, higher than the threshold of 15 ppb that federal regulators say is the point at which a water system must take action to protect public health.

"I'm over it. I really just want to leave," said Denettra Brown, who is Oscar and Elizabeth's great-granddaughter and lives in the house with her son, Dana, who is suffering from unexplained health problems.

"I'm tired of crying, I'm tired of my head hurting, I'm over it...Something needs to be done."

The amount of lead in the tub water exceeded the federal limit even though the city is no longer using the water from the Flint River that corroded pipes and leached lead into the system.

Flint switched back to using water from Detroit in October, and has been adding phosphates to its water since Dec. 9 to build up a protective layer in the decayed pipes and seal in any lead, but it's unclear how long it will take for that to be fully effective.

In the meantime, some pipes are depositing more lead in the water than the filters are rated to handle, officials have said. Pregnant women and children are being told to only drink bottled water unless their home has been tested and declared safe.

The results from Water Defense's tests in the Brown house don't tell the family how much lead might have been in the water at the peak of the crisis — before the switch away from river water and before the phosphates were added.

"If we're finding concerning and dangerous levels now, God knows what the lead levels really were before," said Scott Smith, chief technology officer for Water Defense, who collected the samples from the Brown home. "And all of that lead is in human bodies."

Dana began having health problems more than a year ago: seizures, which can be a symptom of lead-poisoning, and rotting teeth, another possible sign. Despite two hospitalizations and an MRI, doctors were unable to diagnose him.

Elizabeth and Oscar Brown and their granddaughter Denettra and great-grandson Dana live in a Flint house with a lead service line and fear the 3-year-old has been poisoned. Hannah Rappleye
His mother wants Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose early warnings about elevated lead tests in children were initially brushed off by government officials, to test Dana for lead poisoning. But since it's been weeks since he consumed any lead-tainted water, those results might not tell the family how badly he was exposed or whether his medical issues are related.

Denettra Brown said she doesn't want to bathe Dana in the water, even though health officials say that's safe and that there is no proven link to reports of rashes.

Mostly, she feels trapped in Flint, where 40 percent of families live below the poverty line. Money is coming into the city for bottled water, filters, testing and health care, but Brown says what would really help her is relocation assistance.

"I can't afford to leave and get a car and insurance," she said. "It's like I'm just stuck here in this mess. I have no choice but to stay."

The Republican Refusal to Aid Flint

New York Times
FEB. 5, 2016

The water crisis in Flint, Mich., has elicited a lot more hand-wringing and apologies than concrete actions to provide for the needs of children and adults whose health may be damaged by water from pipes that are leaching lead into taps all over the city. The state government, whose officials caused this crisis, has been loath to commit substantial funds to long-term needs, and Congress, under the control of Republicans, is finding excuses not to rescue this poverty-stricken, majority-black city of nearly 100,000 people.

The evasions were on prominent display on both sides of Congress this week.

A House oversight committee held a hearing on Wednesday whose purpose was purportedly to identify those responsible for the Flint crisis and determine what could be done to alleviate it. But the committee failed to summon Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, whose environmental officials and emergency managers were the ones who made monumental blunders that led the city to draw water from the polluted Flint River without treating it properly. Instead, Republicans heaped blame on the Environmental Protection Agency, which made mistakes but was a bit player in this drama.

Then on Thursday, in the Senate, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on a financial aid package for Flint, to be attached to a bipartisan energy bill awaiting passage, broke down, and Democrats refused to approve the bill without the aid package, pushing any hope of assistance into next week.

The Democrats have already yielded a lot of ground, cutting their original $600 million aid package to less than half of that, only to meet Republican objections that the costs were not fully offset by other cuts in federal spending and that no money should be provided until Michigan had a more thorough plan on how the money would be spent.

There is little doubt that some, perhaps all, of Flint’s corroded pipes will need to be replaced, at a cost that the governor estimates at $767 million and others say could be above $1 billion. We believe that the Army Corps of Engineers ought to do the job and bill the state for its services. It is outrageous that Flint residents, even though the city has switched back to cleaner water from Lake Huron, still have to rely on bottled water and filters because the lead continues to leach from the pipes.

There is no doubt that thousands of Flint residents will need monitoring, medical supervision and educational support for many years to come. Some 8,000 or more children under the age of 6, whose developing brains can suffer irreversible damage from exposure to lead, drank the poisoned water, and some are already showing symptoms. They need immediate access to supportive preschool programs; monitoring by school nurses and teachers trained to spot and care for children with developmental difficulties (Michigan ranks last in the ratio of school nurses to students); and nutritious meals high in calcium, vitamin C and iron, which mitigate the effects of lead.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Experts are uncertain about the degree of permanent brain damage caused by the amount of lead ingested by Flint youngsters. That may take years to assess fully, but these youngsters and their parents deserve every bit of support they can get for the harm they have suffered and will continue to suffer from the government’s mistakes.

And children are not the only victims. Lead poisoning can have severe consequences for people of all ages. It will be crucial for everyone — every baby, adolescent and adult — to be monitored by a primary care doctor who can keep close watch on his or her medical needs. Providing that service will require immediate money from the state and federal governments — and a long-term commitment from the state to the victims for decades to come.

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